Matthew 5:13-16 (The Message)
Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavours of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.
Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colours in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! 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.
Jesus went around healing people and teaching after returning from the wilderness experience following his baptism (during this time, Jesus was thrice tempted by Satan and, on each occasion, refused to give in). It wasn’t long until Jesus had a large following and decided to climb a hilltop to preach, which is a pragmatic move when you don’t have a microphone and need to address a lot of people. He starts with what is commonly known as the beatitudes (a list of those who are supremely blessed) which go as follows:
‘You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are – no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
You’re blessed when you get your inside world – your mind and heart – put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.
Not only that – count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens – give a cheer, even! – for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.’
Matthew 5:1-12 (The Message)
Following this declaration, Jesus tells the crowd how, as followers of him, they are to be salt and light. To be salt in the sense we ought to bring a flavour to this world that tastes of God’s grace, goodness and stability. Within the Matthew Henry Commentary (a commentary is a book written by a theologian scholar to help others understand the bible) it’s stated that the gospel brings to a person hope, life and grace and that for a minister to lack grace is for a minister to lack the gospel. How else can he receive grace if he can’t receive the message of Jesus? It’s a hard lesson, but true. How can a minister preach Jesus but condemn those who need Jesus to heal them?
Another approach the same commentator took on this passage was that a person who is salty (and we mean in the sense of the parable as opposed to a person who sweats loads) would accept the beatitudes and the beauty of those blessed. Someone who lacked salt would, like many of the Pharisees, tread upon those who fitted the list.
The IVP New Testament Commentary Series made the observation that salt cannot stop being salt but if it did then it would be in a bad place. The point Jesus was attempting to establish, the commentator says, is that a professed follower of Jesus who lacks genuine commitment is valueless. If we are to be followers we need to be set upon the cross. We need to have a passion for Christ and not be daunted by those around us who don’t. That is part of why I have decided to restart this journey: this quest is one we need to become committed to and not to give up on. We need to have perseverance and slog on through the difficult parts, including coming to terms with our failings, because Jesus is 100% worth it. I write this knowing I’m not perfect, I often fall flat on my face or turn the other way and I make the bold assumption you’ll do the same. However, I also write this understanding that God’s grace is sufficient and that I desire my heart to change so that I am fixed on God’s way and not mine. Read the beatitudes and take them in: can we bless ourselves? Heck no! God can though, and he goes beyond and above the call of duty in doing so.
Now, with regards to the city of light (we’re still talking about the parable and not about Paris), Jesus is about bringing people back into relationship with God: this means those who are following him and are establishing a relationship with him will start to reflect and shine God’s love and glory in their lives. They, in all accounts, are to be lights that shine in the darkness: ‘Now that I’ve put you on a hilltop, on a light stand – shine!’ It’s not going to be easy, but it is the best way to live. Radiating, reflecting and representing God’s heart.
PS. As I skimmed through the commentaries I used on exploring this parable, I came across a statement in The IVP New Commentary Series that encouraged me and made me think (being someone who spends too much time in the past):
‘Christians are light because-contrary to some psychoanalytic theories-their destiny more than their past must define them.’
Let us look forward and not be locked onto the past. When we truly do that, and fix our eyes on what is ahead, we can shine. What is before us? The cross: the eternal symbol of grace.
PPS. If you want to check out what else these commentaries say, I source them on www.biblegateway.com. They’re free and a great way to study the bible deeper (personally, I ought to start reading them a little more too; I barely scrape together these posts…)
PPPS. On a very similar theme of today’s parable is this week’s post from The Monday Heretic, please have a read of these encouraging words:
“Scripture taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.”