You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a lamp stand, and it gives light to all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
It must be understood that to make a difference, one must be different. Jesus turns to this handful of uneducated dis¬ciples and lets them know that such is a very real possibility in their lives. In a world of sin and decay, they could be a powerful influence for preserving good¬ness. In a world of confusion and dark¬ness, they could be a light pointing oth¬ers to God. For some reason, we always seem to have a problem accepting the fact that God does not look for champi¬ons when He chooses to change things. God has always given noble purposes to the most ignoble things. When He created man, He did not use diamonds but dirt. When He called David to deliver Israel, He put a stone rather than a sword in his hand. God came to this earth by way of a barn not a castle, and His first disciples were found work¬ing out of a small fishing boat. God hasn’t changed. He has always chosen the ordinary to accomplish the extraor¬dinary, and His challenge on this day was certainly no different. “You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.” There was never a more com¬mon group of individuals by the world’s standards than this group to whom Jesus is speaking. In simple language He tells these uneducated disciples that they are to be a powerful influence for good and for God. Having just stated in the beatitudes the inner qualities of those who are a part of God’s kingdom, Jesus now uses two familiar terms. In using the words “salt” and “light” Jesus directs their attention to a world that is spiritually decaying and wandering aim¬lessly in darkness and one to which they have a tremendous responsibility.
When Jesus said, “You are salt” and “You are light,” the pronouns are emphatic, meaning you only are the salt, you only are the light, no one else. You are it, and if you do not retard the decay, if you do not bring light into the world, it will not happen.
Few things in the ancient world were seen as more important than salt. Because of its seasoning and preserving qualities, it was a highly prized mineral. To the Greeks it was seen as divine, and the Romans believed nothing was more valuable than salt and the sun. The English word salary is derived from the Latin word “Salarium” which refers to the payments made to a Roman soldier with salt.
When Jesus said, “You only are the salt of the earth,” the value Jesus placed on His hearers was beyond their imagina¬tion. If the job of salt is to arrest or at best hinder the process of decay, they were to understand that such was now their responsibility. Whether the world Jesus lived in or our world today, salt is needed that the corruption and decay might be arrested, and that is our calling. In the words of Paul, our task is to “adorn the doctrine of God in all things” (Titus 2:9). The word “adorn” is the Greek word from which we get the word cosmetics and is used to describe arranging jewels in such a way that their full beauty might be seen. Christians by their Godly behavior show the difference Christ makes and serve as salt in our world.
Jesus next warns against salt losing its usefulness. In the world in which Jesus lived the salt crystals were often contaminated with other minerals. The crystalized formations were filled with impurities, and since the actual salt was more soluble than the impurities, the rain could wash out the salt, which made what was left practically worth¬less. Being of little value, it was thrown out. That is the warning for those who follow Christ. Allowing the world to affect us to the point that we lose our distinctive nature, we are of no value to the world. A distinctive nature which incidentally is only of value if like salt is in close contact with that which needs flavoring.
When Jesus said, “You only are the light of the world,” both their amaze¬ment and confusion only increased. Biblically, light represents truth, grace, and the awesome activity of God. Darkness represents sin, evil, and the realm of Satan. Light dispels darkness, gives guidance, and serves as a beacon pointing one to a safe destination. Jesus had taught and His followers had accepted that He was “the light of the world” (John 8:12). Now Jesus is saying to those sitting before Him that they are the light of the world, and the last thing they are to do is hide that light.
Lighting a lamp in that day was no easy task, and for that reason effort was made to ensure one’s light did not go out. It is said that upon leaving the house, for safety reasons the lamp would be taken from its stand and placed under an earthen vessel where it could burn risk free. When someone returned to the house, they would put the lamp back on the stand. The lamp was lit to give light to the room, not to remain hidden away under its protective covering.
Jesus was clear: We have been called to be salt and light. That is why we exist on earth. Flavorless salt has no purpose. Hidden lights are useless. The idea that a believer would disengage from a lost world or lose the ability to make an impact is foreign to Jesus and that which He has called us to do. Like the reporters covering our present wars, we as Chris¬tians are embedded in our culture with the wonderful opportunity to show the difference Jesus makes in our lives and tell of the difference He can make in theirs. The world does not need a bunch of Christians who crawl into their spiritual storm shelters each week and talk a good game. The world needs Christians who will engage and challenge them with Godly living and a Christ-centered mes¬sage. And the world needs that from each of us who wears the name of Christ.
With that need in mind, I end with the following story: A number of years ago a magazine carried a series of pictures depicting one of the saddest stories imaginable. The first picture was one of vast wheat fields in Western Kansas, and as far as the eye could see, there were hundreds of acres of wheat waving in the wind. The second picture was a mother in distress inside her farmhouse in the middle of those wheat fields. Her son had wan¬dered out of the house and into that wheat field. The little fellow was so small that he couldn't be seen, and she couldn't find him. She called for her husband, and the two of them searched all day for that little boy. They finally decided that they should call the neighbors, who began to search frantically all over the wheat field with no success.
They knew the boy was too little to see above the wheat and find his own way out, so the picture showed her in great distress. The third photo depicted all the people who had heard of the little boy being lost. They gathered in the morning, joined their hands, hand to hand, and in a great, long line of humanity, linked only by their hands, swept from one end of that wheat field to the next. The last picture was a heart¬breaker; it was a picture of the father standing over the body of his little son. They had finally found him, but he was dead. It was too late. A cold, cold night had claimed its victim. Underneath the final picture of a weeping father were these words, "Oh, God, if we had only joined hands sooner."
Oh, to think of the impact for good and God when all Christians join hands and live as salt and light.