Coming on the heels of Jesus blessing the crowd, he turns his attention to the disciples who are ready to learn how to take their blessings out into the world. Being a creative teacher, Jesus comes up with two analogies to help them to discover who they are and what they’re called to do. You are Salt. You are light.
To this day, his blessings and analogies still ring true. What Jesus said back then, still matters to us today. We are salt and light. We receive God’s blessing and then are called to be that blessing out in the world for the sole purpose of helping others see, in the good things that we do, how God is at work in their life… so they will respond by giving glory to God. That’s pretty much sums up today’s reading. And what it means to be a Christian, as individuals and as a church. We are salt and light.
Any student of science knows salt is an important part of life. It’s a mineral that plays a vital role in hydration and maintaining a balance of electrolytes in the body. Without salt, we would die. Whenever I had a sore throat as a kid, my dad made me gargle with saltwater. A gross tasting magical elixir… which helps to reduce inflammation. If you have sore muscles or tired feet, nothing is more healing and restorative than a good soak in a salt bath. Maybe Jesus uses this analogy to tell us that we play a vital role in the healing and restoration of the world.
Salt is also used to enhance the flavor of food. In some households, it’s the secret weapon to enjoying your mother-in-law’s cooking. In our house, one cannot sit at a table without being given a sampler of salts to sprinkle over whatever food has been prepared. Kathleen swears that different salts enhance the natural flavors of different foods. Perhaps Jesus is telling us that as salt we are to elicit goodness and bring out the best in people.
Here’s a little known important fact to keep stored in your head. Salt was the main contributor to the development of civilization because it is a perfect way to preserve food for storage or travel. A thick coat of salt can keep meat from being corrupted or spoiled. Is Jesus telling us that we are to be a spiritual agent that stops the spread of bad things from corrupting and harming our communities?
Because of all these great qualities, salt remains one of the world’s most valuable commodities. Back in the olden days, was a common practice for Roman soldiers to receive salt as part of their salary. Thus a person was, or wasn’t, worth their salt.
For all it’s goodness, salt also has a bad side. Too much can spike your blood pressure or cause kidney disease, or affect your appearance. In biblical times salt was even used as a weapon. Once it lost its flavor, or its tang as they say in Scotland, one would spread salt on an enemy’s crops, causing the land to go barren. Maybe that why Jesus warns us not to lose our flavor, our saltiness, so we don’t do harm to others or ourselves.
Someone once said, “while we can’t lose our soul, we can lose our savor.” We all run the risk of becoming unsavory – a worthless commodity that does more damage than good. We see this today not only in our politics but even in our churches. It happens when people who call themselves Christians do not stand up for what is right and just. Instead they turn a blind eye or simply put up with the corruption festering all around them. Such people, as the old saying goes, “are not worth their salt.” If there is no Christ in your Christianity, then you have no value in the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus said, “You are salt.” But if you lose your saltiness then how will people taste godliness? If you’re going to call yourself his disciple, you cannot lose your capacity to love and value those who are dispossessed. Jesus teaches us the way of godliness and righteousness – always seeking justice and fairness, showing mercy, having integrity, and speaking up and standing up for what is right even if those in power crucify us for doing so.
We are salt. We are valuable to God. It’s in the way we live out Christ in the world, that people come to see their worth in God’s kingdom and give God glory. That’s the gospel. To be the salt and light, because human beings cannot live without either one.
I might be old, but I do remember some lessons from a high school biology class I had in the early 80’s. One is that light is the main source of energy for all living organisms. It is the essence of life itself. Without it we would literally be nothing. Maybe mushrooms, or mold, but who wants to be something so slimy and gross?
In John’s gospel, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is making us light-bearers with him. He’s putting us in the center of the table to illuminate the entire room for others to see how God is present even in the darkest of places.
It’s worth reminding ourselves that every day, when light breaks the darkness, there is a new beginning, a new day. Every sunrise awakens every lifeform. So maybe when Jesus gives us this analogy he is reminding us that every day we are given a new opportunity to shed light on God’s blessing for the world to see. God’s light is our light, the light of life itself.
Last week, my friend Gianni and I were talking about the affects that artificial light has on our health. Whether it’s the neon numbers from an alarm clock or the glow of a television screen, artificial light disrupts our circadian rhythm – the body’s 24-hour sleep/wake cycle. Science has shown that artificial light affects things like brain wave patterns, hormone production, and cell regulation. It has also been linked to medical issues like depression, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and sleep disorders like insomnia.”
Just as artificial light is harmful to one’s health, artificial faith is harmful to one’s spiritual growth. Likewise, real faith, like real light, is life giving. As followers of Christ, we must be his Light – willing to faithfully go to the dark places, bearing the light of Christ in all that we do. Just as the moon, which has no light of its own but reflects what it receives from the sun, we who chose to follow Jesus, are called to reflect his light upon the world. It’s imperative that we not to hide our faith or spiritual gifts but to put them in the center of life – drawing people to its warmth and radiance.
We also need to remember that a candle only shines once it’s lit. We cannot bring the light of Christ to others if we refuse to let it shine in our own heart. Our spiritual journey begins with God’s blessing upon us. But it doesn’t take off until we accept that blessing; allowing it to penetrate the deepest and darkest depths of our soul, so that we can fully and truly light up as bright as the Son. By embracing our own blessing, we are able to bless all our relationships in a way that fulfills the righteousness of God – to love as we are loved by God.
By truly embracing our own blessing, we are able to demonstrate what it means to have a character shaped by God’s blessing – to be the salt of the earth. We are able to make our words mean something, to live with integrity, to show respect and kindness to one another without fearing how others might retaliate.
By understanding our own blessing, we are able to illuminate God’s blessings in those dark places where love is lacking, forgiveness is needed, and where mercy and justice are missing.
My charge to you today is to go and be the salt and light of Christ in the world, so people are able to see their value in the kingdom of heaven, to know their worth in God’s glory and shine themselves.
This is how Jesus fulfilled God’s righteousness, and blessed the world with love and grace. And this is how we, his followers, are able to abide the same – loving God with all our heart, mind, and soul; and our neighbor as ourselves.
Let us pray:
God, you have enlightened us with your Word today, and illuminated us with your Spirit. Send us now out into the world to bring out the best in others by being our best. Help us to shine brightly, not for our glory but for yours. As our individual lights come together to form this church, we pray that you will draw others to it’s warmth and radiance, now and forever. Amen.
Bartlett, David L and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting On The Word, Year A, Vol 1. (Louisville: Westminser John Knox, 2010) pp. 332-337.
Lockyer, Herbert. All The Parables of the Bible. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1963) pp. 146-147.
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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