Mt 5:13-20 Salt and Light
Story: In the 19th Century (before radar was invented) ships avoided each other by looking out for beacons or lights on other ships.
And they communicated with each other by flashing messages to each other by light in a sort of morse code.
One day a Royal Naval battleship was out on manoeuvres and the captain of the battleship saw a beacon on the horizon.
He realised that his ship was on a collision course with it.
So he called his signaller and told him.
"Flash the following signal over there ”We are on a collision course, advise you change course 20 degrees."
The reply came back "Advise you to change course 20 degrees."
The captain signaled back, "Who do you think you are - telling a Captain in the Royal Navy what to do."
The response came back "I’m a seaman second class, you’d better change your course 20 degrees.”
By this time the captain was furious.
He signalled back “I’m a battleship. I have no intention of changing direction. Change course 20 degrees."
The reply came back: "I’m a lighthouse. Be my guest."
In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus uses two metaphors to describe the effect that his Church (that’s you and me) should have on the world.
Salt is used to slow down the decaying of meat. It is also used to bring taste to the meat too
And Light is used to illumine darkness
As Christians, Jesus calls us to be different.
It is interesting how expressions from the Bible have entered our language
For example, a person who is a really nice bloke is described as “the salt of the earth”
If we have special talents that we don’t use we speak of not “hiding your light under a bushel”
These are attributes that even the world sees as “good”
Let us look at the metaphor of salt
1. You are the salt of the earth
Salt was used for flavouring and preserving food.
It was also used by the Jews to symbolise wisdom.
So, what exactly are “you” supposed to be doing by being “the salt of the earth”?
Both flavouring and preserving really - by improving the society in which we live and by seeking its betterment, not necessarily by charitable works (although Christianity can and should take this form) but by simply being true children of God.
If we are true servants of God, we shall automatically be true servants of man by acting in man’s best interests - love of God inevitably shows itself as love of fellow man.
However, like the salt, we can only do this by being present and mixed in with the food!
Disciples are to function in society as an alternative and challenging community.
2. You are the Light of the World
Jesus probably had His home town of Nazareth in mind - it was “a city on a hill” and it stood out from the surrounding countryside.
Nobody could miss it.
This is a clear message to the disciples - they are to be like a “city on a hill” - they are not to be hidden, but clearly visible.
No underground religion, please!
There’s an old question which goes, “If you were brought to court and charged with being a Christian, could enough evidence be found to convict you?”
This applies also to v.15; one does not (or should not) hide one’s light, but let it shine before men.
We are (a) to do good deeds (b) visibly.
This does NOT mean that this has to be done with much “Hey! Look at me! Aren’t I terrific???”
Later, Jesus condemned such behaviour in the Jewish religious leaders, who went out of their way to exhibit publicly how devout they were.
It does mean that we have to have good works – not to save us – but as a result of our being saved
St Paul sums it up well in Ephesians 2:8-10 when he says:
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
John Stott, Rector Emeritus of All Soul’s Langham Place, once said this in the USA:
“You know what your own country is like.
I’m a visitor, and I wouldn’t presume to speak about America.
But I know what Great Britain is like.
I know something about the growing dishonesty, corruption, immorality, violence, pornography, the diminishing respect for human life, and the increase in abortion.
Whose fault is it?
Let me put it like this: if the house is dark at night, there is no sense in blaming the house.
That’s what happens when the sun goes down.
The question to ask is, "Where is the light?"
If meat goes bad, there is no sense in blaming the meat.
That is what happens when the bacteria are allowed to breed unchecked.
The question to ask is, "Where is the salt?"
If society becomes corrupt like a dark night or stinking fish, there’s no sense in blaming society.
That’s what happens when fallen human society is left to itself and human evil is unrestrained and unchecked.
The question to ask is "Where is the church?"
(John Stott, adapted by Adrian Dieleman, The Salt of the Earth)