Salt and Light – Lent 2014

My Dear Friends,

‘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.                                     

Matthew 5.13-16

Negativity is spreading. Whether it is Media interviewers whose aim is to make people feel as small as possible or football managers who tear down their players with insults during a match, negativity is spreading.  It has been said too that “children become what they are called.”  But perhaps the challenge of Lent this year for you should be, in the words of the song, “accentuate the positive”.

Jesus does just this to his disciples after he has spoken to the crowds from the mountainside in the words which have become familiar as The Beatitudes. But when he calls them the “salt of the earth,” it is much more than our modern understanding. Salt was one of the most important commodities of the ancient world. It was used for preservation and, by definition, it only loses its saltiness if it is diluted.

Light is used by Jesus in a similar way. His disciples would have known that God began Creation with Light and that Light is a common metaphor for God in Scripture. Light is of God. Israel was meant to be the “light of the world,” to be a blessing to the whole of creation.

Saying “You are the light of the world” is telling his close friends that they are the sign of God’s presence in the world.

He goes on to say that that he has come to fulfil the Law of Moses and not to abolish it. He wants them to understand that that he is part of God’s ongoing work of Salvation and that what he brings to the world is not something new.  “You have heard that it was said… but I say to you…”  His new righteousness, though, is not about following rules, but following the heart. And this makes further sense of what he is saying about Salt and Light.

How many people have never been told “You are the light of the world”?  How tragic is it that there are people in the world who have never been told that they are the light of anyone’s world.

Notice the present tense as Jesus tells his followers they are salt and light now, not in some distant future. Jesus’ teaching is not only about what the Kingdom of God is, but centrally about who we are, what our new lives in this new realm look like — tasty and lit up.

Those who follow Jesus don’t merely sit back and receive abundant life, or simply tell others about what a great abundant life we have. Jesus is talking here about a life that makes a difference for others in the world.

We are the tastiness that adds salt to lives around us. We are light that makes plain the justice of the Kingdom of God. Jesus says we must be tasty and lit up in order to make a difference for God in the world. Neither salt nor light exists for themselves. They only fulfil their purpose when used, poured out.

Salt and light were both precious commodities in Jesus’ time. Both sustain life. Neither can be produced easily on one’s own. They are gifts of creation that require careful ingenuity to access and conserve. And they make all the difference!

The “bushel” Jesus mentions here is not a unit of measurement. Rather, Jesus refers to a vessel big enough to cover a lamp. He describes a light not snuffed out but covered up. The light is not extinguished. It is rendered ineffective.

Bushels that cover your light. What are they? Maybe the bushel is an inferiority complex, a lack of confidence. The inferiority bushel blocks out God’s light.

Or perhaps the bushel is the self-absorption of internal conflicts. Bushel that prevents our light from shining.

Jesus gives the central insight that lights don’t magically end up underneath bushels. The only way for our light to be covered is if we put a bushel over it. We can hear the incredulous tone in Jesus voice, “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a bushel” (verse 15). Bushels can only block out the light when we put them there.

For ours is the “light of all people. This light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:4-5). So “let your light shine before others” (verse 16).

Too many are captive to the lie that they are not Christian enough or sober enough or church-going enough or know the Bible enough to be claimed by God. The good news is that Jesus has already opened the Kingdom of God to everyone, regardless of who is righteous or deserving. Bushel-free, our lives can shine with the good news of Jesus, welcoming the lost from death to life, from shame to forgiveness, from wandering in an alien land to coming home to God’s very life. This strikes me as something that can make you both lit up and tasty throughout the 40 days of Lent.

Canon Charles Richardson