"Salt and Light"

Matthew 5:13-16

From the Series “Summer School: The Core Teachings of Jesus”
By: Michael Roberts

In the spirit of a sermon series called “Summer School,” today you are going to get a grammar lesson. Exciting, right? Now before you check out, let me say that this particular grammar lesson might just transform your life. Jesus starts the Sermon on the Mount by speaking in the third person. He says, “Blessed are “they.” Blessed are “those who.” It’s not first person (I), or second person (you), but the third person voice, “they.”

For the past three weeks we have explored the “beatitudes,” where Jesus gives general, universal blessings that reveal the way of God. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Then, in verse 11 of this fifth chapter of Matthew, Jesus makes a shift. He shifts from the third person to the second person. He turns directly to his disciples and says, blessed are “you.” At this point, these beatitudes are not just general words. Jesus says that they apply directly to you. You are called to be meek and merciful. You are called to hunger and thirst for righteousness. You are to be a peace-maker.

In our lesson today, right after the beatitudes, Jesus continues his teaching, and continues to speak directly to the disciples. He says, "You are the salt of the earth" and "You are the light of the world."

Let’s think about salt for a moment. In that day, salt was very valuable. People were actually paid with salt. In fact, our word "salary," comes from the Latin, "saltirum," which literally means "salt money." Salt was (and is) used as a preservative and a healing agent. It was (and is) essential for life. It was (and is) an important flavoring, adding zest to food. The difference is that then it was rare and expensive. Today we tend to take it for granted, or even overuse it.

With the metaphor of salt, Jesus is saying, "You are valuable, precious, special." "Without you the world would lose some of its flavor, some of its life." Just think what happens when the love of God is sprinkled, through us, in places like your neighborhood, or in this community. Something great happens. Other people receive a taste of life. Their lives are enriched. "You are the salt of the earth." Don't underestimate yourself. You are that important.

Next Jesus says, "You are the light of the world." Light, like salt, is important only in what it enables to happen. In other words, we do not stare at a lightbulb, but we enjoy what the lightbulb enables us to see. We flip on the switch and darkness is transformed, perspective is given, fear is released. "This is what you are able to do," says Jesus. You are able to help others to see God and to know that they are loved and know that they are not alone. Therefore, do not hide your light but "Let your light shine," not as a spotlight on you, but as a light that reveals the love of God and brings glory to the ways of God. This means that you shine with patience and kindness, with forgiveness and grace. "You are the light of the world."

And now one more important language lesson. Jesus is speaking in the indicative, not the imperative. The indicative mood is a statement of how things are or how they are perceived to be. An imperative is a command or challenge. Jesus does not say you should be the salt of the earth ... or you can be the light of the world. He is saying, this is who you are. This is how God sees you. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. It really does make all the difference whether we conceive of being a Christian as something that we ought to be, or as something that we are.

We can compare two different parenting styles. Imagine one parent going to a child and saying, “You need to go make something out of yourself. Right now, you are worthless. You need to become somebody.” This parent may think they are being motivating, but they are motivating with fear -- the fear of being seen as worthless unless you prove yourself somehow or of being rejected if they don’t live up to some expectation. Now compare that to a parent who starts by telling the child how much they are loved, how wonderful they are, how much the parent believes in them, and foresees great things for them, because of the potential that has already been given to them. This is motivating in a different way. This child is able to grow from deep roots of love and possibility, rather than from fear.[i]

In this lesson, Jesus does not say, "you can be my children, you can be the salt of the earth if only you do this or believe that.” Jesus doesn't say, "You should be like light." He doesn't say, "Go make something out of yourself." Instead, in him we hear God say, "You are my child.” You are special. You are important. You are loved. The whole world will benefit from the flavor and perspective and nourishment that you can give. Now, go live as salt. Now, go let your light shine.

This week, as we celebrate the Fourth of July, as grills work overtime, as fireworks fill the sky, I trust that you will pause and give thanks. We are citizens of a nation that, in many ways, sees itself as a light to the world, and as salt to the earth. If there is any hope of that being true, then I believe it starts right here (in the community of faith), and here (heart), in each of us. Therefore, I encourage you to take a moment this week to remember who you are. May you hear and receive these words, deep in your soul. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. You are bread for a hungry world. You are blessed, and always blessed to be a blessing. From God’s perspective, this is who you are. Now, go live like it. Grow into who you already are as a child of God. Amen.

[i] William H. Willimon, “Remember Who You Are: Baptism, a Model for Christian Life,” Nashville: The Upper Room Press, 1980, p. 29