These days we take salt for granted. It is cheap. However, this was not always the case. In ancient times salt was highly valued. At times, it was even used by the Romans as currency to pay soldiers and other officials. Light is also taken for granted. Flip a switch on the wall and a room is filled with light. A satellite picture of the world quickly shows how lit up the night has become. However it wasn’t that long ago when a single lighthouse stood as a beacon between a cargo ship and crashing rocks. If power is ever lost in a storm, the familiar house now becomes a place of pitfalls and stubbed toes.
Jesus is continuing his Sermon on the Mount and he calls those present ‘Salt’ and ‘Light.’ We may not fully grasp what he was saying because of light and salt being so much a part of modern life. He was calling them highly valued and important in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus is also saying the same about us.
The people in Jesus’ audience weren’t what we call celebrities, they weren’t adorned in luxury or religious leaders basking in the flattery of others. Along with the disciples, the people included the poor, the persecuted (or soon to be), those who dared to speak the truth (put a light) to the world’s darkness and who desperately hoped for God’s righteousness to be known. The kingdom of heaven belonged to people like these. Jesus called them ‘blessed.’ He also called them ‘salt’ and ‘light.’ What is important to note is that Jesus was speaking in the plural, not singular. As a collective whole, they were ‘salt’ and ‘light.’ Today, we call that collective whole the church.
So what happens when the church is no longer pure in heart? Meaning, it is willing to trade a seat in the kingdom for a place of prominence in the world? What happens if it is no longer concerned for the poor, the grieving or oppressed? What if it no longer shines a light on the darkness or perhaps even helps in the coverup? It becomes like salt that has lost its value. It has done the absurdity of lighting a candle only to put a lid on it to protect the darkness.
Jesus was very direct. He didn’t come to abolish the Law or the prophets but to fulfill God’s demand for righteousness spoken through them. Jesus will go on in the following verses to explain what this involves as his sermon continues. His teaching, life, death and resurrection has shown the God who comes to take an enslaved world and bring it to freedom.
The verses today conclude with Jesus warning that unless our righteousness exceeds the Pharisees and teachers of the law, we won’t be a part of the kingdom of heaven. If anyone knew the Law and prophets, it would be the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. Yet, there is a difference between knowing and being transformed.
There is the darkness of cynicism, division, manipulation, fearmongering, lies, etc., etc., etc. At times, this seems so overwhelming. Remember Jesus’ declaration: you are salt…you are light.