Salt, light, and law. That seems like a rather odd combination of images, but they were used by Jesus to address his followers as he continues the teachings that took place by a mountainside. The first ten verses in chapter 5 are known as “The Beatitudes” and is one of the most loved portions of the Gospel. It forms the beginning of what has come to be known as the “Sermon on the Mount” which is recorded in chapters 5-7 of Matthew’s Gospel. On this mountainside Jesus sits, assuming the well-known posture of teacher, and the disciples come to him. The scene is an intimate one despite being out in the open and it becomes clear that Jesus wants to impart these specific teachings on those who have chosen to follow him; this is a moment between teacher and student. And what is the wisdom that Jesus wants to impart? He tells them, “You are the salt of the world. You are the light of the world.” Notice that Jesus did not say, “You should be the salt of the earth,” or “You should be the light of the world.” Too often, we take these words as commands instead of descriptions. Jesus doesn’t give the disciples instructions on how to become salt and light. Rather, he just plain tells them that that’s what they are. “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.” When Jesus says to his disciples that they are the light of the world, that they are salt of the earth, this is sheer promise and declaration. Jesus is describing the here and now—this is not about the future, what the disciples will one day become, but about the present, this is who they are now. 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.
But how can this be possible? How can we, often weak and unpredictable, easily disheartened and not always reliable, whose faith may falter, how can we, flawed human beings, be light or salt? Can it be that we, with all our limitations, can truly contribute to the welfare of this congregation, of our community, and the world? Perhaps a way to begin to answer those questions is first by critically examining what are the “bushels” that cover our light. The “bushel” Jesus mentions to his disciples is not a unit of measurement as modern listeners may assume. 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. Perhaps the bushel is the self-absorption where the responsibilities of our daily lives consume us to the point that there is really very little left for God—little time, little commitment. Or perhaps the bushel is fear or the bushel is inferiority (the sense that we have little to offer). Or perhaps the bushel is the fantasy church in our minds. This sort of bushel is seductive because it seems so positive and feels so good. Such holy longing for an imagined future can indeed fuel us. Our church fantasies can leave us unable to build a common life with the real people around us. Magical thinking covers our light.
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). Ridiculous! Jesus is clear: we are not victims inevitably doomed to being distracted and drained by the bushels of self-absorption or fear or inferiority or fantasy. Bushels can only block out the light when we put them there.
Join me this Sunday as we critically think about the need for light and salt in our world today. Join me as we focus on how to best let our light shine and allow our salt to season the world. Together let us reflect upon what it means that Jesus does not tell us to look to others for answers, to ask others to be light or salt, instead Jesus tell us, “You are…
See you on Sunday!
Rev. Dr. Daisy Machado