Echo High School has been having a conversation about what it means to live Coram Deo, or in the sight of God. We are centering our questions around the manifesto of Jesus as laid out in the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew’s Gospel chapters 5 through 7. In it, we find so much about what walking in the ways of Jesus is and is not, much of it corrective criticism to the way the Christian faith has been practiced. This week, our conversation goes to Mathew 5:13-16.
Matthew 5:13-16 – 13 “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.
14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 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. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
Jesus uses two different metaphors to communicate the purpose or effect of being his disciple. The metaphors for salt and light were more vivid to the ancient audience of this teaching than they are to us, so let’s break them down.
1. SALT of the earth – Salt was much more meaningful and valuable to those in the ancient world. Now, we think of salt in terms of sodium and cholesterol. Salt was connected with several ideas in the ancient world. First, it was the most common preservative. There were no refrigerators in a very hot climate, so this was a very important. Salt was used to keep things from going bad, and to hold putrefaction at bay. When Jesus compares his disciples to salt, this is one of the associations they would have made. If followers of Jesus are to be the salt of the earth, they must have a certain antiseptic influence on life. They should be preservers, holding infection or corruption at bay. I want to be careful and clear here, because no one likes it when someone takes the morality of another on as a personal project. This shouldn’t give you permission to be judgmental, bossy, self-righteous, or superior. It doesn’t mean you should try to be the conscience of others. It does probably mean that you should bring out the best in others, to be someone whose company makes it easier to do the right thing, and not the opposite. It means to influence others to be their best.
Second, and most obviously, salt lends flavor to things. Food without salt is bland and boring. When Jesus said his followers were to be the salt of the earth, he meant that they should flavor life. The sad reality is that so often, people connect Christianity (and religion in general) with precisely the opposite. They assume that religion is what takes the flavor out of life. Interestingly, this was an early criticism of the Jesus way by the Romans – that Christianity took the fun out of life. If life in the way of Jesus is grey, pale, and gloomy; if all it offers is renunciation and suffering, then what flavor could it bring? I think if that is the face of your faith, you have gone wrong and are far from the vision of Jesus. We need to discover and demonstrate the radiance of the way of Jesus. For those in Christ, it should not look like a funeral when we gather, but a feast.
2. LIGHT of the world – The second metaphor, the light of the world, is equally powerful. Matthew’s readers may have remarked that Jesus referred to himself as “the light of the world.” When Jesus commanded his followers to be the lights of the world, he demanded nothing less than that they should be like himself. This means that we shine not with our own glory, but with the reflection of his light. Think about the way a bride on her wedding day glows. It is not that she is inherently radiant, it is the attention of those gathered and love and adoration of her groom that causes her to shine. A light is something that should be seen, something almost impossible to hide. The houses in Palestine were very dark, with only one little circular window. They lit their houses with these little oil lamps that they put on a stand. Light can also be a guide, something that chases away the darkness and reveals the truth of the situation. It can make clear the way.
SO WHAT? Taken together, the idea behind these metaphors is a command to demonstrate a public faith that is potent, influential, and effective. This is a counter cultural command in an age where people are told to keep their religion to themselves. Jesus says: “Let all see it and benefit from it.” However, he does caution that this should be done in an attractive and compelling way, not an ugly or obnoxious way. There is a big difference! Jesus says in v. 16: “Let your light shine before people, that they may see you good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” In Greek, there are multiple words for good. There is the word agathos, which simply means good or high quality; and there is the kalos, which means that thing is not only good but it is also captivating, beautiful, and attractive. The word here is kalos. We hear this and might wrongly assume it means playing righteous, like being the good girl or good guy – somehow projecting an aura of purity or righteousness. This is not quite what he means. What some people think is “goodness” is often repulsive. This is not “theatrical goodness.” If that could ever translate into a showy self-righteousness or superiority, this is NOT what Jesus means. What Jesus means is for you to show your world something beautiful. Show them something compelling. Show them something attractive. “Christians,” those who walk in the way of Jesus – have a little bit of a “perception problem.” At least that is how I heard one person describe it. I think it goes much deeper than our culture’s perception; this is reality. The findings in David Kinnaman’s book unChristian should shake those who claim to follow Jesus to the point of self-reflection. It is not that the church really does resemble Christ and the culture just has it wrong or is seeing us through their jaded glasses, it is that in some ways the church has actually wandered away from the teachings and the heart of Jesus. When people look into the lives of those who claim to follow Jesus, they see so little of Jesus. This is the major problem. Jesus here describes people that do not embody the ways of the Kingdom of God as salt that isn’t salty and light that is invisible; in other words, worthless. If it is not doing what it is supposed to do, if it is not what it claims to be, discard and dismiss it. Of course this is the joke: Jesus’ audience could not imagine tasteless salt or invisible light. They didn’t exist in their minds. This is Jesus’ point: there is no such thing as a disciple who doesn’t act like a disciple. Such a disciple is not a disciple at all! The transformation of your life as a result of walking with Jesus should be evident and obvious; it should be noticeable like the presence of salt and light.
Questions for you and your teenager:
-What is the difference between being influential and being obnoxious about your faith?
-What are some of the things that prevent followers of Jesus from being influencers?
-Why is it so easy to be influenced instead of being the one that influences?
-What do you think Jesus would say about peer pressure based on this passage?