13 You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall it
saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown
out and trodden under foot by men. 14 You are the light of the world. A city
set on a hill cannot be hid. 15 Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a
bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 Let your
light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory
to your Father who is in heaven.
In this section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is addressing His followers.
He is telling them about the nature of the kingdom of God. What is it like
to live under God's rule? What kind of king is He? How does God's kingdom compare
with the kingdom of this world? Jesus begins this sermon by telling His followers
about those who are blessed, favored by God. And it seems that Jesus needs
to tell them this, because, as we have seen, the list is not at all what we
would expect. To be blessed in God's kingdom here on earth is to be one who
is longing for what is not already readily apparent around him/her. This person
is longing beyond the world he/she lives in. The blessed are those who ache
for right relationships and the well-being of God's shalom. They are those
who are not fooled into believing they are their own source of life and identity.
They hope in mercy to know the last word on themselves and others. They resist
using underhanded or evil means to get what is truly theirs.
Jesus tells His followers why these characteristics are signs of blessing,
signs of God's work in one's life. The reason is because the Kingdom of God
is the answer and fulfillment to all these longings. When one is hungering
for righteousness and peace, s/he is hungering for the very heart of God to
be made manifest everywhere. As we have discussed, the world in general does
not have the same view as Jesus on this subject of blessedness. From our own
experiences we know that being poor in spirit or meek or merciful are not generally
looked upon as signs of God's favor. However, Jesus does not deal with the
world's possible reactions to His followers until the last beatitude. Here
He says that they are blessed when they experience various forms of persecution
as His followers. Jesus develops this point the most fully of all the beatitudes.
He wants His followers to understand that while they are truly blessed by God,
the world will resist them and persecute them as it resists and persecutes
the kingdom. While Jesus, the Light, was not overcome by the darkness of this
world, He was persecuted by it.
So then, you might be wondering at this point in Jesus' sermon on the mount,
what is our relationship with the world? Why are we still here if we are resisted
and persecuted? Why can't we just immediately go and live fully and only in
the kingdom of God? I think Jesus begins to answer these questions in this
passage of Matthew 5:13-16. Jesus tells His followers who they are in relation
to the world where they live. There are two images He presents to them. They
are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Notice that these are
both statements of fact. Jesus is not telling them what He wants them to strive
hard to become. He is not commanding them. He is telling them what is true
already. As those who are blessed by God, they have a special relationship
with this world.
So, who are the followers of Christ? First of all, they are the blessed ones.
They are those who enjoy God's blessing. They follow The Blessed One, Christ
Himself. Their blessing is seen here on earth in their poverty of spirit, mourning
over sin, evil, and death, aching for righteousness, seeking to bring about
shalom, looking for how God is connected to all that is around them, being
merciful, etc. As we have seen, this is also how we see Christ's blessedness,
for all these characteristics are first true of Him. Second, though, the followers
of Christ are the persecuted ones, following The Persecuted One. By God they
are blessed, by the world they are resisted. Even though the kingdom of God
brings new life, comfort, right relationships and well-being, the world is
The world doesn't feel like home to those in God's kingdom. Jesus tells them
that is because they are not a part of the world. Rather as members of His
kingdom, they have a special relationship with the world. They are salt. Salt
is not the food. It is put on the food for the purpose of flavoring or preserving.
It benefits the food by its presence. In some way then, our presence in the
world is for its benefit, regardless of the way the world may treat us. We
have not been taken out of this broken world because our presence here makes
a difference for the better. God's kingdom through us is preserving and bringing
out the best of this fallen, sinful world.
"You are the light of the world," Jesus tells His followers. This
image, like the previous one, tells us that this world is not our home. This
world is darkness. We are light. We can shine into the darkness, but we are
not the darkness. Light provides a way to see in darkness, a way to come out
of the darkness. Without light, there is no way to turn from the darkness,
to consider any alternative to it. So our being the light of the world means
that we are still here, enduring resistance and often great persecution, because
we point to a way out of the darkness.
These are amazing statements Jesus is making to His followers. First of all,
He is telling them that this world is not their home. Actually, He has been
telling them this all along. No wonder the characteristics of the blessed are
not what we would immediately expect! Because these are the blessed of God,
not the blessed of or by this world. And all these characteristics, as we have
seen, are about longing for what cannot be found readily on this fallen earth.
Now with these images of salt and light, Jesus helps His followers to see more
clearly their real relationship to the world around them. No wonder I don't
feel like I fit here--I don't. I can't find my peace, identity and life in
the world because I am not of the world. But somehow my being in the world
has a benefit to the world. In my blessedness, I am a blessing to the world
even if it resists!
Does the world recognize me as a blessing? No. As we have already seen, the
world will often react in a defensive or hostile manner. But the world's response
does not tell me the truth of who I am and why I am here. We are salt and light
already. We are not salt and light only when the world recognizes us as such.
After both of these images Jesus makes some comments about being ineffective
as salt and light. He tells His followers that salt that has lost its taste
is no longer any good. It has lost its whole purpose as salt. Without its taste,
salt is unable to be salt. In the section after telling them they are the light
of the world, Jesus speaks of the uselessness of hiding one's light. You might
as well not have a light if you are going to cover it up because then it cannot
function as it ought.
What is Jesus saying here? In order to understand how we might loose our saltiness
or hide our light it would be helpful to consider how it is that we are salt
and light. Since this immediately follows the beatitudes, it seems clear that
we are salt and light in our blessedness. That is, we are salt and light when
we are poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungering after righteousness, merciful,
pure in heart, making peace, and being persecuted for Jesus' sake. When we
live in our poverty of spirit, etc. we point to the truth that we are created
to find our real comfort, home, peace, and life in God. And we are salt and
light to the world in our blessedness because they too were not created to
find their identity and life here in this fallen world. We are all created
to find our true joy, the fulfillment of our deepest longings in knowing our
In his essay, "The
Weight of Glory", Lewis calls this longing with which
we are created our "inconsolable secret." He describes it as "the
sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longing to be acknowledged,
to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality..." People
resist this longing for God by trying to fill it in a variety of other ways,
such as worldly success or fame, having power over others, avoiding suffering,
etc. They do not usually connect their drives and their dreams with a longing
after their Creator. But that they are created with this desire for God is the
truth of who they are nonetheless. Lewis goes on to say, "Apparently, then
our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe
from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have
always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index
of our real situation."
So how might we, as salt and light, lose our saltiness or hide our light?
From the context it seems that this happens when we resist being poor in spirit,
meek, mourning, and so on. When we studied the beatitudes, we noticed that
the characteristics that Jesus calls blessed are very uncomfortable to be or
remain in, mainly because they are not characteristics that the world recognizes
as blessed. It is difficult to remain in a place of recognizing one's poverty
of spirit. The world tells us to be self-sufficient and autonomous. To live
in one's poverty of spirit is to remain in the position of recognizing you
cannot give yourself life and so you are ready to receive it from God. When
this is not given any support by the world around us, we are tempted to resist
and turn away from this work of God in our lives, to "toughen up" so
that we fit in better. But when we turn away, we no longer point to God and
His goodness and grace, as so we are not salty. To long for God is to be blessed
by God and to be blessed by God is to be a blessing to this lost world.
Jesus last statement in this section is a command, just as his last statement
in the previous beatitude section is a command. "Let your light so shine
before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father
who is in heaven." Jesus is telling His followers that as light, they
need to let their light shine in such a way that people see it and give glory
to God. Now usually if we are "letting our light shine" what we might
expect is that people give us glory. They see our good works and they praise
us because we did them. How is it that we do our good works so that people
instead recognize and praise God because of them? Well I think the answer lies
in the command Jesus gave in the previous section. "Rejoice and be glad,
for your reward is great in heaven..." Are we to live in our poverty of
spirit, our meekness and mourning, in a defeated or stoic way? Is our focus
to be on our state of longing? No, rather it is to be on where we are going,
the wonder that this is a pointer to our true home and not our eternal state.
We mourn over the deep evil and loss of this world freely in the context of
knowing that God will one day provide us with full comfort. We can be meek
and resist evil here on this earth and rejoice knowing that one day all will
be made just and right. We can look to see how God is truly connected to all
things because someday He will reveal to us just how true that is.
Jesus is not calling for us to will ourselves into a state of fake happiness.
We are not to pretend life here is fun when it isn't or that our losses are
not painful and at times devastating. We are to mourn and weep and suffer with
the suffering that living in a place that is not our home inevitably brings.
As we continue to follow Jesus our lives here will not get easier. In fact,
I find that the longings, the mourning, the hungering, just gets deeper and
deeper. I feel less at home here than I did many years ago. We have struggled
greatly through this past year and I know many who are in difficult circumstances
The blessing is that we long for comfort, peace, righteousness. We long for
the presence and joy of our heavenly Father. These longings are from Him and
they tell us that this world is not our home and these circumstances are not
the final word about who we are and what life is really about. We rejoice and
are glad not about what is currently happening, but that our reward is great
in heaven. This deep joy and hope in what God is doing in and around us is
what leads others to glorify God when they see our good works, our lives lived
out through our in confidence in His faithfulness.
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