Summary: Jesus calls us to be "salt and light" in the world, but that means living into a new righteousness that takes the "law" to a whole new level.
There is this great Appalachian folk tale that follows the patterns of Shakespeare's "King Lear." The story goes something like this. A man goes to his three daughters with the question, "How much do you love me?" The older daughters immediately begin to fawn over their father, comparing their love for him to things like gold and silver and the finest jewels. The youngest daughter sits silently for many moments, watching her sisters as they strive to please their father with their answers. When they finish, the father turns to his youngest daughter, who has remained quiet, and asks her once again, "How much do you love me?"
The youngest daughter looks to her father. It was clear she had been thinking hard about her answer, and she said, "I love you like meat loves salt." Well, her father flew into a rage. Compared to gold, and silver, and the finest jewels, salt is nothing. The father was incensed, convinced that his youngest daughter must have no love for him at all. So his reaction was to cast the young daughter from the home. She was banished. And so she did the only thing she could do, she left.
In so many ways, it was as if nothing had changed for the Father and his remaining daughters, and his life went on. Then one night, the Father sat down to dinner with his family. It was a special night, and there were lavish slabs of meat on every plate. He was anxious to dig in, and he quickly did. However, the meat was not nearly as satisfying as he was expecting. Now rather annoyed, the Father began investigating to find out what was wrong with the meat. What he soon discovered was that there was no salt in the house, so the meat had not been salted.
And suddenly, he understood. He ran from the house in search of his youngest daughter. He had lost touch with her, and it had been months since he banished her from his presence. He searched high and low, hill and valley. It took days, but he finally found her. And when he did, he pulled her into his arms and said, "I love you like meat loves salt."
As we listen to Jesus this morning, we begin with this image of salt and light. These are sort of normal, ordinary things. They are a regular part of our lives without us really giving any thought to it. And yet, we hear now Jesus saying, "You are the salt of the earth...you are the light of the world." And suddenly, we have to really open our eyes to the true significance of light and salt in our lives. Because when we understand that, we can begin to understand what Jesus is calling out of his disciples as he speaks to them on the mountainside.
The Appalachian folk tale gives us a great sense of the significance of salt, doesn’t it? Salt transforms things. Salt brings out and enhances the flavor of foods. Salt takes what is plain and makes it extraordinary, which is exactly why meat loves salt. In the same way, light makes things visible. Light shows the way. Light illumines the darkness, even to such an extent that, as John tells us, when “light shines in the darkness, the darkness cannot extinguish it.” Light and salt may seem a small thing, but when put to good use, they can make an amazingly huge impact!
So are you hearing Jesus’ words? Salt and light are seemingly ordinary things that expose better qualities, that transform, and improve the things of this world. And Jesus is saying to us, “You be salt. You be light.” Which means Jesus is calling us to be people working in the world in such a way that by the power of Christ, WE are the ones who bring out the best in others and in the world around us, WE are the ones who ignite positive transformation and improvement. Christ wants us to be the ones who turn the ordinary to the exciting, and the darkness to the light. Well now, salt and light aren’t so ordinary anymore, are they? This is a HUGE task that Jesus places upon his disciples. But here’s the thing, he doesn’t stop with this call. Christ goes on to give us some ideas of what it might actually look like to live out our roles as salt and light in the world.
You may be aware that Jesus lived in a very turbulent time. And he found himself as a very controversial figure in what was an already volatile religious environment. The various flavors of Jews were locked in an ongoing debate about the true place of worship, the law, and the ritual purity practices. And Jesus stepped right in to that debate with some radically new ideas. You heard several of them in the scripture reading this morning. It is this series of teachings, each of which begins with, “You have heard it said…, but I say to you…”