Sermon on the Mount — Part 2 Matthew 5:13-20
Last week, we began our 3 part series visiting snippets of Jesus’ sermon preached from the side of the mountain overlooking Capernaum and the Sea of Galilee: The Sermon on the Mount. We looked at the first verses, the Beatitudes, which described our calling both to be hungry as well as to be fed, and then to be used to find and feed all who are hungry in every sense of the word. This week we are looking at further images that Jesus used to make that same point. Jesus speaks about us as salt/ light/ and as with him we become his fulfilling of the law!
WE ARE TO BE AS SALT… It’s helpful to think about what Jesus may have meant with his use of this metaphor. We know that salt was a vital part of their lives.
We know that was used as a preservative. How else were they to keep their food from spoiling in a time before refrigerators and ice boxes, and in a climate where nothing froze? I understand that they used it to prevent putrefaction. It was also used as a disinfectant. In a time before other, more sophisticated antibacterial compounds, Ezekiel[i] teach how, after birth, midwives were to cut the umbilical cord, wash the baby in water, and then rub them with salt before dressing them. As a disinfectant, and also to treat open infections and wounds. In a process called desiccation, salt acts by drawing water from harmful bacterial cells which them die.
It was also used in the temple by the priests as a component of ceremonial offerings spiritually cleansing offerings which otherwise would have remained unclean and unacceptable…
We read in the OT[ii] of how they were to throw salt onto their temple offerings
There are also passages that describe ‘covenant of salt’ used as a symbol of friendship between warring parties wanting to make peace and to heal previously hostile relationships[iii] They speak of a binding ‘Covenant of Salt!’
But perhaps especially, it was and still is most obviously used as a seasoning for food! It was Job[iv] who bemoaned how could anyone eat that which is tasteless without salt? Salt was understood as an essential spice of food.
Following Christ is meant to be what makes life worth living – the spice of life – makes us come alive! But that’s not always so. Robert L Stevenson once actually wrote of an extraordinary thing in his diary: ‘I went to church today, and am not depressed! Seriously?
They would have understood salt as preserving life, purifying life, and adding life! It would have signified permanence, loyalty, durability, fidelity, usefulness, value, and purification. How we are to be that in a world where increasingly life seems to be becoming cheap, a world where it’s so easy to slide backwards into hugely destructive, self-centered, ego-centric behavior? We are called NOT to be safe places for that to happen. In a world of mind-numbing fear, greed, hopelessness, despair, it’s as if Jesus is saying it’s our job to embrace who he is and what he represents and to share him with the world by bringing life where there is death, hope where there is despair, joy where there is sorrow, justice where there seems only to be falsehood and corruption!
Right here – within our spirituality/ our faith communities – is from where the worst of our world must find itself being cleansed, disinfected. This is from where the best of ourselves and all creation must come to be noticed and be helped to emerge purified, preserved…
Does that sound kind of grandiose? Well, it’s true! We are called to own our place as the SALT of the earth! AND WE ARE ALSO CALLED TO BE LIGHT
Darkness was pretty all consuming in an age without any of the artificial light sources that we now take so for granted. Just think about how dark their lives must have been once the sun went down. What would the role of light have been to them? And – especially – what would it have meant that Jesus describes THEM as being that light…?
It seems our presence is to be as light for others’ paths, lights that expose the dangers, pitfalls, what to avoid, how to steer, how to live! That’s God using us to be revealers, guides, beacons.As we come into our truest possible selves – our ‘IN-CHRIST-RESTORED-TO-BE’ best selves – we are to shine! Elsewhere Jesus calls himself the ‘light of the world’[v]. Here he calls us, those who would follow him, the same. He is saying that we are to be like him! Notice, that’s not our own lights that need to be shining so much as Christ’s light which is to shine in and through us!
Our role, therefore, is to be as Christ’s light reflectors…
How we are to be that? How are you to be that?
AND THEN, THERE’S THAT WHOLE REFERENCE TO THE LAW? What are we to understand by ‘THE LAW’ in this sense? Surely, what Jesus is referring to as ‘THE LAW’ is our part in living into all of God’s intention for us as God’s creation. Surely that is the whole point and premise of the Law: …that we come to be aligned with what we know we’ve been created to be, what Christ reveals and restores us to be, what in Him we are FULFILLED to be.
And that whole point of why the Law exists – HAS NOT CHANGED!
Instead, on that mountain 2000 years ago- Jesus teaches how that whole sacred intention has now been fulfilled in him! As we are in him, so it’s us who are intended to own our purpose as the on-going fulfilment of the law. We live our destiny and purpose by being what Christ intends us to be, what the world has never more needed us to be: salt and light, and with all of what that implies!
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[i] Ezekiel 16:4
[ii] Leviticus 2:13, Numbers 18:19
[iii] Numbers 18:19; Ezra 4:14
[iv] Job 6:6
[v] John 8:12