ABC Extra – Matthew 5:13-16

January 25, 2010 at 4:45 am Leave a comment

The Roman philosopher Pliny wrote, “Nothing is more useful than salt or sunshine” (Natural History, 31.102). This past weekend in worship and Adult Bible Class, we reflected on the truth of those words as we discussed Jesus’ mission for us, using his metaphor of salt and light:

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16)

Part of what makes these metaphors so powerful is that they are multifaceted and therefore rich in their applications of who we are called to be as Christ’s witnesses. Salt, for instance, had nearly limitless uses in the ancient world.  From a seasoning to a preservative to a sign of friendship to an element in sacrifices to a symbol for the Word, salt was used in and for nearly anything and everything.  As such, salt was considered a precious commodity.  In fact, spilling salt was thought to invoke a curse.  In order to break this curse, a person was to take some of the spilled salt and throw it over his shoulder. From this, we get the tradition of tossing salt over one’s shoulder for good luck.

Interestingly, in Leonardo da Vinci’s famed fresco of the Last Supper, in front of Judas is a spilled shaker of salt.  Da Vinci used this well-known image of spilled sodium chloride and the superstition connected to it to poetically portray Judas’ deep and dire betrayal of his Lord and Master.

Salt’s value in the ancient world adds yet another facet to Jesus’ commission, “You are the salt of the earth.”  Not only are we to spice up the world with the message of Christ, preserve the world with the true doctrine of Christ, be a friend to the friendless in the name of Christ, be willing to sacrifice for the cause of Christ, and preach the Gospel boldly according to the Word of Christ, this metaphor of salt also reminds us that we are considered precious in the sight of Christ.  As God reminds us through his prophet Isaiah, “Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give men in exchange for you, and people in exchange for your life” (Isaiah 43:4).  Finally, God gave not men, but a man named Jesus, in exchange for us.  We are so precious in God’s sight that he gave his Son for us.  Thus, when Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth,” among other things, Jesus is reminding us of how infinitely valuable we are to him.

As for Jesus’ metaphor of light, we learned not only that are we called to be light for Christ in a dark, crooked, and depraved generation, we also learned that Christ is our light, just as he tells us: “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12).  Interestingly, Jesus’ identity as the Light is intimately connected to Jesus’ identity as the Messiah. In the Old Testament, a king was called a mashiach, or messiah, a Hebrew word meaning, “anointed one.” A king would be anointed with oil as a sign of his fitness to rule and reign over Israel.  Oil, of course, was used not only for anointing kings, but for a whole plethora of purposes, including that of lighting lamps.  Thus, in Psalm 132:17 we find that the oil of anointing is connected to the oil which lights a lamp as the Psalmist prophecies that God will “set up a lamp for his anointed one.”  The two pictures come together.  The oil with which God’s Messiah is anointed becomes the very oil with which he lights a dark world.  And so, when Jesus says, “I am the light of the world,” his claim is none other than a Messianic one.

Finally, these metaphors of salt and light are not only Christ’s mission for us, they are a description of Christ himself.  Salt describes Christ’s love and care for us as his precious children.  Light describes Christ’s identity as the world’s Messiah and Savior.  In other words, we cannot be salt and light without Christ being Salt and Light first.  So this week, go forth as salt and light in the name of the One who is Salt and Light.

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Entry filed under: ABC Extra.

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