SALT OF THE EARTH AND LIGHT OF THE WORLD
I do not usually read other authors and quote them in these essays. I usually read the Book and spend a lot of time thinking about it and seeking to know the true meaning of the passages we are studying. However, at times, I read William Barclay because of his great background in the history of the times and the customs prevalent at the time. In this essay, I must give particular credit to him for some of the insights I will give. His work on this part of Matthew is unparalleled in all the studies I have read over the years.
After Jesus finished the magnificent Beatitudes, He warned His followers that following His moral teaching and dedication to the Father would make them very unpopular with the world. For men of the world are hedonistic and mainly interested in personal satisfaction, however they can get it. They are antagonistic to anyone who pricks their conscience, or suggests they are responsible to a higher power. Jesus tells them that they are the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world”. What an exalted position for the followers of Christ to hold! However, the demands and responsibility are great.
In the ancient world, one of the most prized elements was salt. Even in our day salt is a prized element. Without it, food would be largely tasteless, and with it, much of our meat is preserved. We would not like to live in a world without salt. Jesus is saying that His followers have the means to give a flavor and goodness to life that is essential to its value and meaning. The morals of Christianity are not designed to take the fun and flavor out of life. Instead they give life a beauty and a lasting meaning that does not fade with time. The principles which Jesus gives preserve the joy and satisfaction of life and avoid the things that satisfy temporarily but in the end make life worse. The “salt” preserves life by eliminating the things that rot and destroy the body as well as the personality of the person.
One other thing Jesus warns of: “If the salt has lost its power to be salty, it is no good and needs to be thrown out”. For the Christian this means if you do not live up to the principles Jesus teaches, yourself, you can have no power to give meaning and purpose to the lives of others. Do not lose your “salt-ness”.
Then Jesus gives the most lofty of all His titles to those who will imitate and follow Him. He says, “You are the light of the world”. While on earth Jesus said that HE was the light of the world. Now, He crowns His followers with the title which was His and anoints them to be His royal ambassadors to the world. What a glorious heritage! But can we live up to it?
Here Jesus says, “Men do not light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to the house”. In ancient Palestine there was no electric light, which we know. The houses were built with a small hole in the center of the roof for light to come through, but it had to be small so it could be covered in bad weather. The light of the house was a wick floating in a bowl of oil. Because there were no matches, the people had to keep the lamp burning even when they were gone. So they had an earthen pot large enough to cover the lamp, and they put it there so there would be no danger of fire when they were away. Jesus said that when people wanted light, they put the lamp on a holder so it would light the house. The lesson for us in this is that Jesus said we are not to hide our faith but live it and spread the beauty of its truth wherever we were. As Barclay says, “He did not say, ‘You are the light of the church’, He said, ‘You are the light of the world’ ” . This means you are not a follower of Christ just because you go to church. Your Christian light must shine wherever you are, at home, at work, in every activity in which you are engaged. Your Christian heart and mind must be seen. Only in this way can you be the “Light of the World”.
One final word: Jesus said that we should follow this path not to be pious and parade our personal goodness, but to glorify our Father, who is in heaven and who is perfect. Jesus always warned us not to parade our piety for others to see. Instead, He wants us to act so much in imitation of Him that all can see, and that we must never act to show off our goodness but always give Him the glory for any ability He gives us to serve.