I wonder how you’re settling into this “new normal,” these new rhythms that aren’t nearly as staccato as the quintessential American pace. For many, at least in this short window, days are filled more with conversation, cooking, game-playing, popcorn-making, and walks outside than they are with the bustle of the absolute frenzy we’ve historically called normal life. Neighbors suddenly have time to talk to one another from across the street, and perhaps for the first time we’re realizing who actually lives around us. We’re rediscovering what matters and what it means for the church to be a beacon of hope for the world.
When Jesus spoke to His disciples and the listening crowds in Matthew 5:13-16, He used the most inconceivable and redefining phrases to describe His ragtag, anything-but-elite followers: salt of the earth and light of the world. These are deeply meaningful metaphors for the Christian life, and I can’t think of a better time for us to reflect on them.
Salt Of The Earth
I tend to think of salt in terms of the way it flavors my food. The question is rarely does this dish need more salt? It’s how much more salt does it need? But in first-century Palestine, though salt was used to flavor, one of its primary uses was to preserve. Without the availability of refrigerators and freezers, salt was rubbed into fish and raw meat to preserve its freshness. It was also used as a healing agent. One of its most meaningful jobs was to push back decay.
Jesus wanted His followers to know that when things are eroding around us, when life is deteriorating, we’re to push back that decay through acts of love and mercy that glorify our Father in Heaven. How can we specifically be salt?
Light Of The World
If salt slows the speed and reach of decay, light overcomes the darkness. John Stott beautifully puts it this way, “The function of salt prevents decay; the function of light dispels the darkness. It is one thing to stop the spread of evil; it is another thing to promote the spread of truth, beauty, and goodness.” We see the dual nature of being both salt and light, how in a sense one preserves life and the other promotes it.
What an opportunity we have right now to shine the light of the good news of Jesus Christ into dark and hopeless places. It’s always been true that those around us are in need of Christ. The difference now is that many more are aware of their need. How can we specifically shine the light?
The Communal Nature Of Salt And Light
Another of John Stott’s wonderful insights from his book on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is the way he breaks down the metaphors:
- Salt and light are agents of impact. This reminds us we’re to be ministers of redemption in our world.
- Salt and Light give and expend themselves. We’re to pour out for others, even when times are lean.
- Salt and Light are distinct from their surroundings. We can’t afford to blend in by being greedy, fretful, or angry, rather we want to live hopefully, peacefully, and generously.
We can see how dramatic and far-reaching Christ’s call is to love radically and practically. Oh, but not in a self-righteous, we’re pulling goodness out of our own bones kind of love. But the kind of love that only comes as a result of Jesus transforming our hearts and flowing through us to our neighbors, our loved ones, even our enemies.
Also, in verse 16 Jesus explains that the good works (visible acts of mercy) we’re to do in this world aren’t for our own glory, or to earn a place with God, but so that people will turn their eyes to our Father in heaven. It’s all about Him!
Lastly—and we absolutely can’t miss this—Jesus’ teaching in this passage is about the collective, communal efforts of the church. We’re not light and salt all by ourselves. We need one another. One practical step we can take is looking to our local churches and exploring how we can get involved in serving those around us. Let’s join together—in a safe and wise sort of way—and be the salt of the earth and light of the world.