February 5, 2023

Those of us who live in wintery climes have learned just how important salt is. If there’s a silver lining to global climate change, it is that we haven’t had as much snow and ice in recent years. Therefore, we’ve had less need for salt and have saved money as a result.

On the other hand, medical research indicates that Americans consume far too much salt in our diets, and the maximum recommended daily intake of salt needs to be lowered significantly. 

Of course, road salt, and high blood pressure were unknown in first century Palestine. But of deep concern to Jesus was heart disease. 

It was the hard hearts—the callous hearts of people who disregarded one another. He was especially concerned with the uncaring hearts of scribes and Pharisees whose religious practices didn’t work for the health of the souls and bodies entrusted to their care and teaching. 

Jesus was disturbed by the hard-hearted powers of Empire who fed off the poverty and vulnerability of the least of these—keeping them in what amounted to a perpetual state of slavery. And then there were the damaged hearts—the vast numbers for whom life was so uncertain and threatening—those who had been crushed by the very ones who had the power to help.

What Jesus did was to remind his people of the Divine calling that had been theirs from the beginning.  “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” 

Now just what is this law and the prophets?

In the Torah, the Law, we hear God’s call to Abraham in the 12th chapter of Genesis:

Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’[1]

Jesus also reminded his hearers of God’s calling through the prophets. Hear this passage from Isaiah:

Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people upon it
and spirit to those who walk in it: I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.[2]

This, says Jesus, is the high calling of Israel, the people of God—a vocation to be a blessing to “all the families of the earth” and “a light to the nations.” To the people who gathered to hear his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminded them of the law and the prophets, of the covenant/the agreement/the deal that they had with God. 

‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste . . . . ‘

‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.’[3]

The community of faith is charged with mission to the world. The refusal to retaliate with violence is the essence of the kingdom of Jesus—remember other parts of this Sermon on the Mount: turn the other cheek, walk the second mile, love your enemies—Jesus’ disciples live their lives for the sake of the very world that persecutes them.

You are salt. In the first century, eating together was called “sharing salt”.  Salt was used for purification, seasoning, and preserving. It doesn’t exist for itself—nor do the disciples. 

You are light. The disciples are illumination for the world. The primary function of light is to let things be seen as they are—to expose wrongdoing and evil—and to show forth the kingdom of love and justice that Jesus is bringing into being.

The salt and light sayings portray mission as inherent to discipleship—as saltiness is to salt and shinning is to light, so is mission to the church.

Matthew uses the “salt, light, and city on a hill” metaphors to reject all religion that is purely personal and private. Followers of Jesus aren’t here only to get something for themselves—our work is communal—and it is for the sake of the world. Please note—just to emphasize the point—You are salt, you are light—the ”you” in these sayings is plural in the Greek. We aren’t just a gathering of individuals but a community of disciples—called since the time of Abraham and of the great prophets.

We hear a lot today about personal religion. Accept Jesus into your heart, obey the four spiritual laws, have Jesus be your personal Lord and Savior so that you can be saved. Many of us can remember a time when we came to church and spent most of the time on our knees, heads bowed, eyes closed, within our own personal space. When we did glance up, we saw the priest’s back. The creed began, “I believe.” The message was that it was just you me, Jesus. 

But we realized that that was bad liturgy, because the church is all about community. We say, “We believe.” We’re invited to stand, to see one another, the bread and wine, as well as the celebrant—we share God’s peace, we are in this together. The AMEN at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer is an all caps, loud AMEN—because Christ is really present, not just because the priest says so. Christ is really present only when you agree with your AMEN.

What I am saying is that the church as the body of Christ in the world cannot afford to be an invisible, private body . . . but a visible, light-emitting body pointing to God’s presence among us and to God’s will that we be a blessing, flavoring and light to the nations. 

Everyone has a role to play and without your salt and your light we are diminished. 

“Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven,” said Jesus. This is the work of the church. And it’s the cure for heart disease!


[1] Genesis 12:1-3

[2] Isaiah 42:1-7

[3] Matthew 5:13-20

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