“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
(Matthew 5:13-16 NIV)
Jesus has just finished his first teaching segment in His Sermon on the Mount. In twelve short verses, Jesus has walked His disciples (and us) through a progression from our natural state of moral and spiritual bankruptcy, through righteousness, to inviting them (and us) into the very presence of God, even offering them (and us) to be part of God’s family.
Jesus reminds His disciples that it’s not an easy road, and there will be trouble along the way. Remember, this is the greatest love story ever told, set in the fiercest battle ever fought. Jesus said there will be hardships, even deliberate taunting and outright opposition (persecution) by the enemy, just as there were for the prophets of old (v. 12).
After Jesus gave such a rich discourse and set it in an heroic history with the prophets of old, Jesus answers His disciples’ most pressing question of the moment: “Tell us who we are, Lord? Where do we fit in to this epic story? What is our identity?”
Jesus now switches gears and uses two vital but common natural elements as illustrations to answer their question: be salt and light.
Salt. All Jesus had to do was say the word, and His disciples instantly understood the context and meaning. Salt was a precious commodity, and was even part of the Roman soldiers’ pay. Salt preserved food, and brought out the flavor in a meal.
But Jesus issues a solemn warning and reminder with His proclamation: Salt can go bad. In today’s world, with modern chemical separation processes, we can achieve nearly one hundred percent pure salt (Sodium Chloride, NaCl). Having salt go bad is hard to understand. How can that be?
In Jesus’ day, most of the salt for that region was harvested from the Dead Sea. The production process consisted of evaporating seawater. But with that seawater came impurities. These impurities included minerals, as well as biological matter such as algae and dirt. These impurities, especially the biological ones, could cause the salt to go rancid.
So what was Jesus’ warning? Don’t go back to being morally and spiritually bankrupt. Be careful how you live, and be the new you I have called you to be. Don’t lose your identity, calling, and purpose.
Light. Jesus’ second illustration was equally obvious.
Jesus knew His disciples understood the value of light, and that darkness was not a “thing”, but simply the absence of light. Jesus reminds His disciples to simply shine. This would allow others to see God at work in their lives, and glorify Him.
Jesus also knew the temptation would be to cover up the light of God shining through them, especially when the insults, persecutions, and false accusations started flying as part of the fierce battle with the enemy. Jesus’ command? Stand firm and let My light shine through you.
So, in a word, what was Jesus calling His disciples (and us) to be? Ambassadors for Him.
How’s your salt and light today?