This Sunday’s Gospel passage, a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount, is where we get the notion of Christians being “salt and light” in the world. As we go through the passage it is valuable to consider two verb moods and and their application to our reading. The first is the imperative mood which takes the form of a command. The second is the indicative mood which is a statement of certainty.
Jesus said that “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how will it be made salty again? It is good for nothing anymore, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.” (v. 13)
This verse is an indicative statement, not an imperative one. Jesus doesn’t tell us “if you do thus and so, then…” What He says is “You ARE the salt of the earth…” By simply believing that what He says is true we are transformed and occupy a place in the Kingdom of Heaven. This is a comforting thing, but Jesus doesn’t use words haphazardly so it profits us to dig a little deeper.
To begin with, in Jesus’ day salt was valuable and a necessary part of daily life. Salt was used as a preservative, without which meat and other foods would spoil. Just as importantly, as we all know, mixing a little salt into a dish enhanced flavors, making the meal a little special. But in so doing the identity of the salt becomes indistinct, it enters into community with the food, and through its God given qualities enhances everything around it.
Think about that in the context of our place in the Kingdom. If we’re like salt then in God’s eyes very valuable. We’re necessary to keep the world around us from spoiling, and when we enter into community with those around us, we’re all made a little special. I think it’s worth considering too, what happens when you add salt to another huge pile of salt. The obvious answer is almost nothing. I am not suggesting that we are not to enter into community with other believers. It is clear in other parts of the Scriptures that we are to do that. But in this passage I think it is also clear that in our role as “salt” we are called into community with those who need a little salt in their lives. Certainly that’s the model Jesus provides for us through out the Gospels. Again, Jesus uses an indicative statement here…we “ARE salt of the earth.”
But let us not overlook the second half of the verse: “but if the salt has become tasteless, how will it be made salty again? It is good for nothing anymore, except to be thrown our and trampled under foot by men.” (v. 13)
The caution here is that if we as Christians deny our role as “salt” in the world, if we somehow reject the notion that God has a purpose for us in the world that is manifested through our God given properties, then we too will be “good for nothing anymore.” Let me be clear, under our own power we are indeed “tasteless”. We have nothing to offer than God values. By but the Grace of God and the sacrifice of His Son alone, we have been transformed into a new creation that has a valuable, important role in glorifying the Lord.
If we accept verse 13, then it’s hard to ignore verses 14 through 16. Jesus says “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do men light a lamp, and put it under the peck-measure, but on the lamp stand; and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (v. 14-16).
Again, Jesus begins with an indicative statement. “Your ARE the light of the world.” If you know the Jesus that I know, your debt has been paid. You are the light of the world.This is followed up with the illustration of men hiding a lamp or putting it on a lamp stand where it can be used for its intended purpose. This is the one of which I’m most guilty. How many times have I felt God’s prompting to say something, or do something, or pray with someone, but because of my anxiety about how I might be perceived, my feet remain nailed to the floor and my lips glued shut. But Jesus says to “let your light shine” not so we can show people how righteous we are, but so that we may bring glory to our “Father who is in heaven.” (v. 16)
Think about the darkest place you’ve ever been. The inside of a closet, Mammoth Cave, the bottom of a bottle, or the end of a relationship. The tiniest spark of light slices through that darkness as nothing else can and beckons us to come near. Like the proverbial moth to a flame, this isn’t what Christ tells us to become, but what He says we are. We are this light in a dark and fallen world. If we will only allow the light to shine those in the darkness will be drawn, not to us, but to the One whose light is within us.
These handful of verses are so simple, yet so profound. In essence, they’re the Christian life in a nut shell.
“You are the salt of the earth.” (v. 13)
“You are the light of the world.” (v. 14)
Be salt and light and “glorify your Father in heaven.” (v. 16)
Salt. Light. All for His glory. Everything else, as they say around here, is lagniappe.
May we all have humble spirits, simple lives, and loving hearts.