February 5, 2023
Isaiah 58:1-10 and Matthew 5:13-16
What does it mean for a follower of Jesus to be salt and light?
Salt is necessary for life. If we don’t have it in our diets, we die. Now, we don’t think about that a whole lot because too much of our diet is highly processed foods that contain too much salt. But it’s true. Without salt, sodium, our bodies can’t function and we die.
The world needs the Church. The world needs the message and the hope we have. The world needs the influence of the Church. The world might not know that, but God knows it.
Second salt is an image of purity. Pure salt is a glistening white color, and that spoke of purity. The Church is to be a purifying influence in the world, keeping the world from falling deeper into depravity.
On a related note, salt is a preservative. One of the reasons they associated salt with purity is because it preserved meat. It prevented the corruption of death. In a world 1900 years removed from refrigeration, you needed something to keep meat and fish from spoiling, and that was salt.
So the Church should be a preservative, preventing the corruption of death and bringing purity to the world.
And finally, salt brings out the best flavors of food. It enhances flavors. Of all people, Christians should be the most joy-filled, the most alive people. The world should look at us and say, “I wonder what they have? Where does their hope come from? Where does their joy and confidence come from?”
“But what good is salt if it loses its saltiness?” Jesus asks. What does that mean? I’m not sure that we really know. I’ve heard two ideas proposed over the years.
One is that much of the salt used in first century Judea and Galilee came from the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea has a lot of table salt, sodium chloride in it, far more than the ocean, but it also has a lot of other chemicals, mostly other salts like magnesium chloride and calcium chloride. And sodium chloride dissolves more easily than these other salts. So if salt from the Dead Sea was exposed to too much moisture, the table salt would leach out, leaving behind the other salts that are not what we are looking to put on our French fries. So that might explain the idea of salt losing its saltiness.
A second explanation is that salt was used to line the floor of first century ovens, because it retains heat well. But, over time, this layer of salt would be used up, shoveled out, and thrown away for a new layer to be laid down. Both of these might explain the saying of Jesus.
On the other hand, it might just be a proverbial question. What good is salt that is not salty? None, obviously. One of the common teachings of Jesus in the Gospels is that uselessness invites disaster. A disciple who is not living like Jesus is like salt that isn’t salty. That disciple is not good for anything.
Isaiah spoke in his prophecy of false piety, those who put on the appearance of godliness but without a change of behavior. We can’t be right with God while we are mistreating other people. Fasting is fine, but the fast God really desires is to release the wrongly imprisoned, feed the hungry, clothe the poor, and so on.
The danger is compartmentalizing life. We put our Christianity into a “Sunday morning box,” and then we leave it there the rest of the week. We live like the world the rest of the time. That is discipleship without a changed life; salt that has no saltiness.
What does it mean to be the light of the world?
Light represents truth. Christians bring truth to a confused world. Light represents hope. We bring hope to a world in despair. Light represents life. We preach the words of Jesus, the words of life. And light is a guide. It leads us along the right path. We should lead the world on a path that leads to God.
Light is meant to be seen. Our good works are meant to be seen by the world so that God might be glorified. The Greek word here for good is KALOS, the word that meant not just good, but also beautiful, attractive. The world should see good and beautiful things from the Church so that God might be glorified.
Now in the next chapter of Matthew, Jesus says something different about our good works. He says, “Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others.” There is a different emphasis there. There the emphasis is on pride, drawing attention to ourselves. Here the emphasis is on drawing attention to God. These two instructions are not opposed to each other. They just have different emphases.
We should be seen doing good and beautiful things so that God may be glorified. We should not keep our faith under wraps so as to “get along with the world.” As someone once pointed out, there is no such thing as secret discipleship. Either the discipleship will destroy the secrecy or the secrecy will destroy the discipleship.
The world needs the Church to be salt and light. The world needs the hope, the purifying influence, the truth, and the joy the Church has. This is as much the case now as when Jesus first spoke those words.