Matthew 5:13-16 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
This passage is positioned in the great Sermon on the Mount. It is the first of five long sermons delivered by Jesus in Matthew. After Jesus went to many places to teach and heal people, he goes to this venue on a mountain to speak to the masses that are following him. From the high point, Jesus speaks a sermon that calls the masses to live a unique way. In the verses before the passage above, Jesus delivers the beatitudes, which could also be called, The Be-happy attitudes. After the passage, we have Jesus telling the listeners that he did not come to abolish the law and the Prophets, but to fulfill the law. Basically, Jesus was calling the people to live by the commands of God. So often the leaders would speak and admonish the followers to live strictly by the Law of Moses and the plethora of laws developed by the Jewish leaders. Sadly, the leaders, while calling others to live by the Law, did not live by that same laws themselves. In the context of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is calling the followers to live by the spirit of the law in regards to murder and anger, relationships, money, prayer, and other aspects of being God followers. When we give ourselves over to the Spirit of God, God’s wisdom, and God’s grace in relationships, we will be different from the way the world is. We become like salt that flavors and preserves. We become like light that overcomes the darkness, or bad, in this world.
Salt in Biblical times was from the Dead Sea. The salt water would be poured out in a pit and sit until the water had evaporated. Left by the evaporation was salt, which was used for flavoring and preserving. The salt, in biblical times, would have been easily contaminated with minerals that would cause the salt to have a short life span of flavor. The users of salt would have understood this illustration because of the short life span of salt. In our day and time, salt is highly refined, so the life span of flavor is a lot longer.
The light in the passage is illustrated by two images. The first image of the city on the hill could refer to the idea that Jerusalem was the “Light to the Gentiles.” At any rate, the cities that were built on a hill would be the source of light in the darkness. Think on how the light from the stars seem more defined when you are looking at them from a field in a rural area. A single outside lamp in the country can easily overcome the scary darkness of the outside. In biblical times, a single light would easily illuminate a room. Hence, the reference to the lamp, which was probably a dish of oil with a wick in it, would help all to see. As you know, when you light a candle in the dark, the room is illuminated. The more lights, the more the room is illuminated. The darkness goes away.
Jesus calls us to be the flavoring in the world, like salt is to meat, thus allowing people to experience the work of God in our lives. We flavor the world with God’s grace, forgiveness, and righteous living. In the same way, Jesus calls us to the light that illuminates the truth of God and triumphs over darkness.
Questions about the Scripture
1. What are the properties of salt and when do you use it? What are the properties of light and how do you use it? Discuss the benefits of salt and light.
2. In regards to the broader context of the Sermon on the Mount, how does the referenced illustration relate to the rest of the sermon?
3. What does it mean as a Christian to be the salt of the world? The light of the world? How are the two images alike and how are they different?
4. In verse 16, what is the result of letting your light shine?
Community & Personal Action Items
Over the course of this week together, let’s challenge ourselves to do one (or more) of the following actions:
1. Commit. Think on how you flavor your world. Do you flavor it with God’s grace and forgiveness, or individual judgement on others? Do you flavor the world with kindness from a heart of God, or not. Commit to being a flavor that improves your surroundings and uplifts the people you are with.
2. Light up the world! Think about how you can be a beacon of God’s love and grace through your thoughts, words, and action. By what you say, or do, you can overcome the darkness, or bad, in life and encourage others. What is one thing you can do to be an encouragement to others on behalf of God?
3. Spread the word! Remember, in our Gospel text today, Jesus was proclaiming how to live life for God. In what why can you spread the word to your home, community, and world in the next week? Stretch yourself in one way you can make a visible difference.
4. Remember. Recite and memorize the following verse this week. Then discuss its meaning and application with your family, friends, or small group.
MEMORY VERSE: Matthew 5:16 (NRSV) – 16 let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.