Proper 1 Year A
Matt 5. 13-20
Are we salt, or light? Today's Gospel asks us to decide. Well
before you leap too willingly to the answer that of course we
should be both, it would be wise to stop and think for a bit.
Salt and light function very differently. Salt works - and works
best - when it is not really noticed. We say that a particular
recipe is delicious - really tasty and satisfying when the seasoning
is just right - we do not that say the salt that has enhanced
that flavour is delicious. If we can taste it enough to say that
something is salty, then usually that is because there is too
much of it and we are left gasping for water!
By contrast, light has to be seen. If it is hidden, as Jesus
himself points out, it is no use to anyone. Think of the work
of a lighthouse at sea. Unless that light shines out every few
seconds, hundreds of ships and lives might be lost on the rocks
that the lighthouse marks.
You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.
The two images represent two different - and perhaps complementary
ways of 'being church'. The metaphor of salt suggests that the
role of the Church is to be a hidden - but nevertheless essential
presence in the world. The symbol of light speaks of the prophetic
role of the Church, illuminating the darker recesses of human
nature and behaviour. And showing it up for what it is. Showing
the path to transformation; to a better way of living and behaving.
And of course the image of prophets that hide themselves away
and refuse to speak out, is nonsense.
But Salt may be used in all sorts of ways in the Bible. Salt
both destroys and preserves. King Abimelech 'sowed salt' in the
ruins of Shechem - to ensure that no-one could live and farm
there for the foreseeable future. While most people (even those
who never study the Bible) will have heard of the fate of Lot's
wife - being turned into a pillar of salt because she disobeyed
the injunction not to look back at the destruction being wrought
on the inhospitable cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.
But Salt also purifies and promotes healing. Salt water bathing
was recommended for all sorts of illnesses and skin complaints....
Elijah threw salt into a poisoned spring, and made its water
sweet again in 2 Kings 2. Salt as we have noted, brings out the
flavour of a dish. And Salt was associated with God's bond with
his people. The salt with which offerings were to be seasoned
when brought to the altar, were the 'salt of the covenant.' And
even St Paul recommended that our conversations should be 'seasoned
with salt' - perhaps suggesting that Christian relationships
should promote healing and health. And perhaps most pertinently
of all today - salt is often used to draw out water and dry things
out! Parts of our land could do with some tankers full of the
stuff at present!
The image of light is perhaps one with which we are even more
familiar. Right from the opening lines of Genesis and the "Let
there be light" command issued by God, to the City of Revelations,
the new Jerusalem - whose light is the glory of God and whose
lamp is the Lamb. Light is the supreme symbol of the divine and
God is supposed to dwell in 'unapproachable light'
In Christ, the unapproachable light draws near to us - which
itself is nothing short of a miracle! In John's gospel especially
the imagery of light and dark is never far away. And Jesus actually
says, "I am the light of the world". Jesus, the light
lifted high, draws all people to himself and is never defeated
by the darkness - even if it cannot comprehend him.
And Jesus also tells his disciples (which includes us) that they
are to be the light of the world. This is why every child, every
person baptised in this church always leaves with a candle which
has been lit as part of their baptism service. But our light
is not an independent light. As the candle is lit from the great
Easter Candle, so our light is lit from the well of light that
is in Christ. The one and only source of our light. Last week
some of us sang - "Jesus bids us shine with a pure, clear
light". But if we are ever tempted to let it shine for our
own gratification and glorification, it will be swiftly shattered
and extinguished. We are to be mirrors reflecting the light of
God into the darkness of the world.
You are the light of the world. I am the light of the world.
You are the salt of the earth. Was the pattern of these sayings
once completed? Did Jesus say as well, "I am the salt of
the earth?" Some scholars suggest that he may have. If so,
there are terrible resonances in what is said of the salt that
is deemed tasteless. That salt is "Thrown out, and trodden
underfoot by everyone." We think of the one who, it might
be said, was not to everyone's taste and who was 'despised and
rejected'. Thrown out after death to be buried in a borrowed
Salt suggests those who are a transformative presence. Brother
Lawrence 'practised the presence of God' in the kitchen of his
priory, content to do the most menial of tasks for the glory
of God... I guess we can all think of people whose very presence
lends savour to our days. I think of those souls who volunteer
to serve as Street Pastors in our towns and cities. Helping to
keep young people safe and defusing potentially dangerous situations.
And what about the Little brothers of the Good Shepherd, running
the food bank and shelter? Such people may not preach, but they
are an eloquent presence.
Light suggests those whose role is prophetic rather than just
practical. But Prophecy does not always require a pulpit or platform
(or indeed a Lectern). Prophecy may be action as much as words.
Jesus said, as we read in our Gospel, that he did not come to
abolish the Law and the prophets, but to fulfil them. It follows
that the law and the prophets are meant to mean for us, what
they meant for Jesus - namely the love of God and the love of
one's neighbour. Prophecy happens when this law of love is proclaimed,
but still more when it is practised. "Light shall beak forth
like the dawn," says the prophet we hear in our OT reading
this morning - and it happens when Justice is done and not merely
So I return to the question I put at the beginning.... in the
week ahead will you be salt? Will you be light? Can you be both?