Matthew 5: 13-20
I am not a science geek. I hated science at school and was very lucky not to have to take it as an exam subject – as long as I did 2 languages. French and German were far more interesting to me than any science. On the other hand I do like a bit of trivia. So having looked at today’s Gospel reading I thought I would google how much salt in the human body. I know we have it and I know we need a certain amount of it – but it’s never really crossed my mind before. Well apparently of all the salts we have in our body, sodium chloride (AKA common table salt) is the major one……and it makes up around 0.4 per cent of the body’s weight at a concentration pretty well equivalent to that in seawater. To put it another way, the average person has 40 teaspoons of salt in their body! 40 teaspoons! That sounds quite a lot to me. And we need that salt. As we loose it naturally from our bodies we need to replace it. Salt is essential.
This has made me look again at our Gospel reading today. In our Gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus says to his followers, his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth ”… and “You are the Light of the world”. Both of these are fairly familiar to us. Salt of the earth is a phrase that we might hear anyone use as they speak of someone they know who is honest and reliable. Someone who gets on and does things, someone who you can depend on. At the time Jesus was talking, and for centuries before and after, salt was seen as one of the most important commodities. It was highly prized and very valuable. It was used for seasoning and for preserving – essential before the last century and the invention of fridges. The Greeks saw it as divine and the Romans believed nothing was more important than salt and the sun. Roman soldiers were even paid in part with salt. The English word salary is derived from the Latin word “Salarium” which refers to that payment. So those who heard Jesus telling them at that time that they were the salt of the earth, would have known its significance – they, or rather their faith and belief in him, and their sharing that with others, was far extremely important. Their responsibility then was to share with and teach others of Jesus, of God’s love. Jesus warns them though, that if they lose their “saltiness”, they will not be effective in sharing his gospel. They would lose their usefulness; people wouldn’t see them as having anything important to share or teach and so would stop listening. On top of this salt crystals can become contaminated with other minerals. It becomes impure. Salt is soluble – it can be washed away with water quite easily. If we look at it like this then for us today just as much as those first followers, those first disciples, we must ensure our distinctive Christian lives, our saltiness, must not become contaminated by worldly temptations. We shouldn’t let our belief in him be diluted or washed away completely by sin or worldly desire. We are to share the Good News of Jesus, we are to lead visibly distinctive Christian lives. We are to have a strong influence on our surroundings – promoting goodness and hindering corruption in society. So that even if people don’t or won’t listen, they can see our faith being lived out in acts of loving kindness.
We are to let the light of Jesus shine through us for all the world to see. This is why Jesus told those followers, and indeed tells us, “you are the light of the world”. Of course we know Jesus as the light of the world but if we truly follow him then we let our little lights shine. In the Bible light represents truth, grace and God’s amazing activity in our lives. Darkness on the other hand represents sin, evil, and the devil. And so Jesus tells those followers, and us, that we shouldn’t hide that light. We are the givers of spiritual light in this world – our good deeds shining out for the glory of God. Why, when we know the love of God, and the hope and good news of Jesus, why wouldn’t we want to share that with those who don’t know?
These two affirmations ‘You are the salt of the earth’ and ‘You are the light of the world ‘ come immediately after Jesus’ teaching of what we know as The Beatitudes. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The Beatitudes are a statement of God’s blessing, on those who exhibit certain character traits and who have suffered in particular ways, such as bereavement or persecution. These character traits and qualities are described in terms of seeking and a hungering for the things of God. These are not hidden character traits or pious religious observance but rather a way of living and engaging in community and with society at large. So I believe our Gospel reading today as being about transformative engagement and bringing light to our communities. Making a difference in our communities out of and in the love of Jesus. Standing up for injustices and prejudices here and around the world. It’s not about how we do church or about our personal spiritual life – although of course that is very important in our personal relationship with God the Father. Living as salt and light is about a deeply challenging and uncomfortable way of ‘public’ living. A way of living that is shaped and informed by Jesus and his self-giving on the cross.
Here in Matthew ‘s account of Jesus’ teaching, Jesus describes those who live this way, those who keep his commandments, as those who are great in the Kingdom of God. He warns that “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” This greatness is and only can be found in whoever does these things and teaches them. A harsh warning – one we need to remind ourselves of. So let’s keep our saltiness. Let’s keep our little lights shining. Let’s keep sharing and living the hope given to us in Jesus, the love of God, and the glory of his kingdom. Amen