Matthew 5: 13-20
‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’
There is so much in this short section of the Sermon on the Mount – vivid images, of salt, cities and lamps, and then a challenge as to what righteousness looks like.
First salt in those days was used as a preservative – not pure, mixed in probably with grit so if the salt has gone from the mix, then the grit is only worth being thrown out on the path; so, if our spiritual life as eked away, there is nothing left of value. We are called to be preserving salt.
We are called to live our faith visibly – not tucked away in private or avoiding the challenges. We are called to shine light out for others not just ourselves.
Some want us to be more verbal in talking about Jesus; some say our actions should speak louder than words. Jesus challenges us that our good works should lead others not just to admire them or be grateful or whatever, but that they might be drawn to give glory to God. Our good works are sometimes done without sufficient “pride” in our faith.
But it is a fine line between sharing our faith and boasting about how good we are! And Jesus I think draws two challenges as he speaks about the Law and about righteousness. He came to fulfil the Law not to say it does not matter – but the Law in those days was not a settled piece of dogma but a subject that the Rabbis debated with vigour and concern for the truth. Jesus does challenge interpretations of the Law, he claims authority – “You have heard .. but I say to you”, and he calls us to a proper righteousness, an inner righteousness (salt) with an outer impact (light). If we are going to comment on the hypocrisy or hollowness of the scribes and Pharisees then our own righteousness must exceed theirs. Jesus will go on to say that our acts of giving should be in secret, our times of prayer, in the quiet of our room not in the centre of the synagogue or temple, so this is a tension we have to keep checking – the twin dangers – drawing attention to ourselves / thinking we are better, or failing to shine as light, failing to be preserving salt to protect what is good. No simple answer but much to take away and think about.
Rev Peter Reiss