Called to be “salt” and “light” in the world
In Sunday’s gospel reading – Matthew 5:13-20 – Jesus called his followers “salt of the earth” and “light of the world” and commissioned them to be his representatives in the world.
In the ancient world, when it was night it was very dark. Isaiah speaks of Israel as people walking in the dark. In Jesus’ usage, the light isn’t simply for finding our way in the dark, but for enabling others to see our good work and thereby to see Jesus.
“See how they love each other!” the classical world exclaimed when it witnessed the behaviour of early Christians.
The good done by Christians – as they refused to leave Rome during the plague and served all (even those who were not baptised) and as they fed the city’s hungry and died forgiving those who persecuted them – played a major role in evangelism.
“Part of Christianity’s appeal,” writes Geoffrey Blainey in his book, A Short History of Christianity, “was the down-to-earth way in which it helped the poor and the hungry, the ill and the orphaned. It gave a sense of security at a time when the welfare state was unknown and inconceivable…
“While the pagan religions rarely offered help in sickness, many Christians, especially women, were willing to nurse the sick and take food to their homes… In nursing the sick and the dying, regardless of religion, the Christians won friends and sympathisers.”
The first disciples had only been following Jesus for a few chapters in the Gospel of Matthew. There was still much they had to learn and grow in their understanding of Jesus. However, Jesus commissioned them (and us) to be “salt” and “light” in a world where there was so much darkness.
Thomas Aquinas (1225–1244), speaking to his congregation, reminded them that our light is reflected light. We are more like the moon than the sun, he said. Jesus is the sun, the source of our light and we are reflections of his light.
Any good work that Christians do isn’t done to get somewhere with God, but rather to testify to the world about what God is doing through us.
As Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message Bible (which is a paraphrase of Matthew 5:15-16), “Keep open house, be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”
Here, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus turns to us, looks upon us, and says, “You are the light of the world… let your light shine before others.”
May it be so for you and for me. Amen.