Matthew 5.13-20 Epiphany 5/5 before Lent 6/2/11
MT 5:13. Jesus said "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. 14 "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 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. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. 17 "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
I imagine we have heard the expression "He's not worth his salt". In Roman times salt was a valuable commodity & was used to pay soldiers, in fact this is where the word salary is derived from. So if someone "was not worth his salt" they hadn't earned what they were paid!
In today's gospel, Jesus tells his disciples that , if they are to be valuable in the world, they must be salty!
This is part of the "Sermon on the Mount" which was addressed to Jesus' disciples, so this includes us, too.
Salt was, and is used in two ways.
To preserve, to purify, to counteract decay. We are to influence society to stop it going bad! By the example of our own lives, in our prayers, in using our influence in our homes, workplace, neighbourhood, church, nation, &, in the days of global communication, the world.
Salt is used to add taste. Counteracting decay, whilst vital, may be seen as negative. The Christian faith is often perceived as being negative, full of "thou shalt nots". But knowing Jesus will enhance the life of everyone who comes to follow him. It will bring love, joy, peace, goodness, security, the power to live for God, the opportunity to talk with God, the confidence of knowing we will be with God forever in paradise.
Pure salt cannot lose its saltiness. But the salt in Israel was often impure. Sometimes the salt was largely washed out before the impurities, leaving it tasteless, ineffective, useless.
In modern Israel flavourless salt is still scattered on the soil of flat roofs. This helps harden the soil and prevent leaks; and since the roofs serve as play grounds and places for public gathering, the salt is still being trodden under foot
Jesus said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." John 8:12. The world is often dark, representing evil and the ignorance of God. Jesus said that his disciples, like him are to be light. Visible, like a city on a hill with its lights shining into the darkness.
What is the "light" he is talking about here? "Good deeds", v.16. This is following God's ways, something we can be more specific about when we look at the remainder of the Chapter in the next two weeks. Before Jesus outlines what he sees as the true meaning of the OT law, from verse 21 he addresses the relevance of it in the light of his life & ministry.
He did not come to abolish the law & prophets, but fulfil them, verse 17. What did he mean?
Fulfill can mean that Jesus meets the moral demands of the law, & he certainly did this by living a perfect life.
Fulfill can mean that Jesus met the sacrificial demands of the OT law when he offered himself on the cross.
Fulfill can also mean that Jesus showed the true meaning of the law, this would certainly apply to the following verses 21-48. Each block of teaching is preceded by the word "You have heard it said", referring to the OT law, and is then applied to life by Jesus saying "But I tell you". Jesus is pointing out the direction in which the OT law points. We will examine this in more detail in the next two weeks.
Fulfill does mean that Jesus is the one to whom the OT law & prophets were pointing. At Christmas we remembered, once more, the OT prophecies about the birth of Jesus, given hundreds of years before his birth. Jesus is the goal of the OT and the one who can true interpret the OT.
Jesus made it clear, verses 17-20 that every aspect of the OT law is relevant to the way that we follow God. He said that following and teaching the OT is a sign of greatness. He also said that 19 Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.
There are people who will dismiss the Bible, or parts of it as irrelevant. They say that it does not fit today. But it does, by challenging the way that we live today. This is nothing new. The OT challenged the people in Jesus' day. God's standards and ways do not change. Jesus is saying that it is relevant and authoritative.
The salt in Jesus day could be rendered useless by the impurities around it. Let us not be affected by the impurities around us. This could be false teaching, but also being influenced by what is around us in the world that goes against God's perfect will, revealed in the Bible. We are to influence the world and not let it influence us.
Jesus would then have shocked his disciples by saying that they should behave better than the Pharisees. Because of the New Testament we may associate the word "Pharisee" with "hypocrite". But the Jews of the day, including Jesus' disciples, would have looked up to them. They kept 385 religious rules, verbal & written. They went around praying regularly, going to the temple, fasting, giving away a percentage of their income, attending religious festivals, studying the OT.
It is like Graham Westley, the Stevenage F.C. Manager telling his players that each one of them should be playing like Lionel Messi every week. Lionel Messi, plays for Barcelona, & has been football's world Player of the Year for the last two years.
It is a good goal for a footballer to try to play like Lionel Messi. It can point in the right direction, but it is ultimately impossible. The OT is like that. It can point us in the right direction, but it will also point to our inadequacies, our failure to follow God's ways.
Before today's passage Jesus kicked off the Sermon of the Mount with the Beatitudes, from the Latin for blessed. He said that those who would be blessed are the "poor in spirit", "those who mourn", "the meek" "those who hunger & search for righteousness", "the merciful", "the pure in heart", "the peacemakers" & "those who are persecuted because of righteousness".
By this he was saying that those who will be blessed and rewarded by God are those who are aware of their own spiritual poverty, their failure to live life according to God's commands. They humbly look beyond themselves for their relationship with God.
Paul, writing to the Romans...
Romans 3:21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
We need to look beyond ourselves for our salvation. We also need to look beyond ourselves for our saltiness and our light.
God the Holy Spirit leads people to trust in Jesus & helps them to live for Jesus. We need to continue in our relationship with Jesus and fellow Christians. As individuals & God's people we need to pray, study the Bible, worship God, and go out into our local community & beyond to help people and to tell them about Jesus.
This links in with us being a well church - Worshipping, Evangelising, Learning & Loving. It also fits in with the Diocesan initiative "Living God's Love" - Going deeper into God, Transforming communities, and making disciples.
If we rely upon God's strength, rather than our own, this will be more effective. Also, it should bring glory to him and not ourselves. This is why Jesus said, 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
Jesus also warned, though, that those who follow God's ways would, like the OT prophets, also face opposition, verses 10-12. So we shouldn't expect that everyone will welcome us when we follow God's ways. Perhaps one example of this is the abuse that collectors for Christian Aid have to endure sometimes.
What should our response be? To keep on doing what is right and being a positive influence in our society.
Because it is obedient to God & Jesus' teaching.
Because it will bless others.
Because it will bring praise to God.
Because those who are persecuted for doing what is right can look forward to being rewarded in heaven.
Because we can do this in the power of the Holy Spirit.