Scripture: Matt. 5:13-20, 1 Corinthians 2:1-16
Salt has been on my mind this week. The first sentence of the Gospel talks about salt. I never really understood the expression “salt of the earth.” It’s something older people said when I was growing up: Mrs. Johnson is the salt of the earth, they’d say. I couldn’t even imagine what that might mean. Now I realize that that was good—they thought Mrs.Johnson was genuine…honest.
I also read in a devotional this week a bit about salt and cooking. (I don’t cook, but I kept reading). Maybe a cook would use a tablespoon of salt to prepare an entire meal. Without the salt, dinner would be bland. Yet just eating an entire tablespoon of salt by itself sounds pretty awful. It’s a matter of the right amount of salt, in just the right places.
I also thought a lot about Pastor Gustav’s message last week on the Beatitudes: blessed are the meek, for they…; the peacemakers, for they….Gustav asked us to think about “they.” Was Jesus talking about us, or about others? Does “they” include me?
Today’s passage is a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount. Here, there doesn’t seem to be any question: Jesus says YOU are the salt of the earth. YOU are the light of the world. He doesn’t even say you will be the salt of the earth, the light of the world. You are!
So far, I’m enjoying this reading. I should let my light shine before others. Great! Some days I feel like I can do that.
Then the lesson takes a sharp turn. Jesus says: Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. Not one letter, not even one piece of a letter will pass from the law. This is a problem. I know that I can’t fulfill the law. I can’t. I am well aware of my sin and how I fall short so many times. Jesus even says that unless I exceed the scribes and Pharisees, I will never enter the kingdom of Heaven. These Pharisees were known for their attention to all the details of the law. I can’t exceed them. I don’t even belong in the same room with these devout Pharisees.
Jesus tells us later that the most important part of the law is this: you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind. And “you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two hang all the law and the prophets.” I know there are eight more commandments, but I’m already sunk. What hope can I find here, in this very direct message?
I do find hope exactly here. Not only does Jesus affirm us as salt and light, he tells us that he has come to fulfill the law. In his ministry on earth, Jesus offers a new interpretation of the law. For some, the law itself is considered a gift—a path to salvation. Now our savior comes, to fulfill, perhaps to complete the law and give us a much greater gift.
If I page through Leviticus, I see the law is very complex. There is so much more than not eating pork or not working on the Sabbath. But Jesus says the law is to love God and our neighbor. How would my life change if I did exactly that?
In First Corinthians, Paul is also direct. Evidently, the Corinthians haven’t been getting along. He doesn’t spell it out for us. But, as Jesus did, he makes a very clear statement: “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” It’s so simple and so profound. I decided to know nothing but Christ crucified.
How would my life change if I said this? If I did exactly this? Jesus has fulfilled the law, becoming a sacrifice for us, showing the greatest love for you and for me.
Paul goes on to tell us that we can’t even imagine what God has prepared for those who love him. That’s love. That’s hope. That’s light.
Many of us grew up in colder climates. Epiphany is a very dark time. The daylight is so precious. The image of Christ coming into a dark world as light is very powerful. Christ is the light of the world and we are part of that light. Each one of us. Christ tells us we are!
I am more at ease with being light than salt. Let me return to that devotional about salt. Remember that big spoon of salt? It’s no good all together, but it’s great if it is spread among all the dishes of the feast. Perhaps it’s like all of us gathering tonight. How much more value would we have if each of us would carry a bit of salt into the world, dispersing it exactly where it is needed?