“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. Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven." - Matthew 5:13-20
Jesus is a salty fella. He’s rather spicy in the ways of his works. His words bring with them the seasoning of heaven that offers life and flavor to our souls. The works of hands and feet pierced, body broken, blood shed, are the salt to melt the coldest of hearts. He is that saline solution of the spirit to hydrate the lives of his people with mercy and grace. To bring them back from a dry and weary land. Therefore, he says to you – you are the salt of the earth; the light of the world – for we live in Christ, and He in us.
It is a habit in our family to keep candy or a pack of gum in our dive bags when we go scuba diving, or with our surfing stuff. When you spend quite bit of time in the ocean, your mouth becomes disgusting. All that saltwater going in and out. The grit of sand that is floating around amongst the waves irritates your lips and teeth. The crust from the salt gets under the neck of your wetsuit and can rub you raw if you don’t wear a rash guard. Salt at its salty worst.
Yet, in the same way, if you have ever eaten anything perfectly seasoned, you are just astounded. I marvel at the ability of chefs I have known in my life working in restaurants, or seeing others in action on TV. Just that right bit of salt makes the meal perfect and they know how to do it. It helps the ingredients to sing and tricks our taste buds into being amazed, often by simple things.
Christ continues his sermon here, taking two object lessons that people would understand and He uses them to make the point of his work, especially how absolutely backwards it can be. First, He says, you are the salt of the earth. Who? Well, what did he just get done saying? Blessed are…the poor in spirit, the mourning, the meek, the hungry for righteousness, the merciful, the peacemakers, and especially here – the persecuted. Basically, the losers of the world, not the winners. To those, to us, to you, Jesus proclaims - You losers, you are the salt of the earth.
Salt is not a food, but it preserves it. It keeps something from spoiling. It offers up a safeguard from bacteria and fungus. It makes things palatable that wouldn’t otherwise be. Sometimes it causes work to be labor intensive. Having to salt fish for instance, or cure a ham. It takes time, a good recipe, and some ingenuity, but it becomes worth it in the middle of winter. Especially back when we did not have refrigeration to help us cheat the system a little.
It also can make the roads and sidewalks better. Melting what might cause us to slip. Saving us from ditches, from trees, from deer. Sometimes.
It also though can damage our cars, damage carpets, even our bodies if we consume too much of it. Getting many benefits, but benefits that can come with a price. With these descriptions in mind hear these words again as Jesus says to you – you are the salt of the earth.
An older priest, in Georges Bernanos’ book The Diary of a Country Priest, is speaking to his compatriot, talking of pastors and Christians in the world wanting the work to be nice and sweet always, and he says – The Lord said that the church was the salt of the earth, son, not the honey. Our poor world is like old man Job, stretched out in all his filth covered in ulcers and sores. Salt stings on an open wound but saves you from gangrene. The work of Christ in the midst of his people, working through his word and his church, becomes this salt. A place of treatment and care, but also a place that may sting you once in a while as sin is discovered or confessed, but always becomes a saving act.
Then Christ also speaks to you – you are the light of the world. Lights brighten up a darkened room. Help to shine on those shoes left in the middle of the laundry room, or that one lego piece that lies in wait to capture another unsuspecting victim to make them scream like a two-year-old who dropped his ice cream.
Lights are not to be wasted and can’t be. You wouldn’t light a candle and put it under a basket. The basket might catch on fire then there would be a bigger light, wouldn’t there? Even when we do waste the light, waste the electricity, it is still doing it’s job – illuminating an otherwise darkened space.
As the lights of the city on a hill, they are there paving the way for you to see when driving, to know where the next town or turn may be, but also telling you, in those days, here is safety. Here is refuge. Here is a place with walls and towers of protection from evil that might come after you. Sanctuaries ablaze to guide the wayward and the weary, and we hear from Jesus – You are the light of the world. Adding – may your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your father who is in heaven.
The light becomes a guiding force not to bring people to you but to bring them where? To God. It is there in this work of Christ in us that we become laborers to dispense the gifts of God. The Word and Sacraments, The Gospel and love. Always to Jesus, always to God, never to us.
Getting our salty flavoring from Jesus the salt-lick, our flames from the fires of the Spirit. The danger is that we think it’s us when it’s him. But it is in all of this working of God that Christ makes know his most important words of all – Do not think that I came to abolish the law or the prophets. I did not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them.
Think of the overflowing basin in the bathroom, or the pot in the sink that has the water left on too long, overflowing over the sides. I have come to fulfill the law, Jesus says. For unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and scribes, the professional religious people, the ones who base their entire lives on being good for God’s sake. You’re screwed. Unless. Unless Christ takes this salty business, this light business, this law business and becomes those things for your sake. Manifests this righteousness, this goodness, this justice, that not even the holiest person could dream of having and gives it to you, you salty fires of God, you.
Coming into the world as the Light of it, as Jesus says in John 8, He is the candle by which all other lights receive their flame. This flaming Jesus, coming with fire to be the light, making the church, you his people, a place of refuge, of solace, but also of warning. It is how the church has always been a guiding light for the work of others in the world. Spiritually advising as the Spirit leads to help others along the way.
Being the place that the salt of Christ is mixed with the earth. Adding a sense of flavor, but also a little bit of a sting. That sting of calling the world out in repentance and to a Jesus who brings the forgiveness and mercy we need. That which is needed when we admit that we aren’t so salty, aren’t so lit up, aren’t very Jesus-y.
Christ links the Beatitudes of last Sunday with this sort of preamble to the rest of his Sermon on the Mount with these words because he wishes for us to know of the saltiness of the Kingdom before we get too far into it. He wants us to know what is at risk. That our own personal righteousness, what we think makes us good is about to be shown for the open sore it is as the salt of the Gospel is sprinkled on it. As we gather together as the people of God and hear His words in our ears to tell us of all the things we can’t do, but then to be told of all that He has done.
There in this fulfillment, added to being blessed when we feel cursed, being salt when we think we need sugar, being light when we are surrounded by darkness, Jesus offers up to us these titles, salt of the earth, light of the world, as calling out to us, opening our eyes, raising us from the dead, to forgive our sin, to nurture our trust in his promised victory, and to tag us along with him in the parade that is this Kingdom work. Where salt seasons our words with grace and mercy, because we have received it. Where light shines forth from us as the Spirit works in us to bring people to Christ. That all the fighting to live by laws we can’t keep ends because Jesus did it all and then some. With that, the joy of the Gospel becomes our rallying cry and the mind of Christ our solemn possession. Based only and completely on what he has done for you. Amen