As Jesus continues teaching his disciples what it means to follow him, he uses two essential earthy pictures to illustrate their witness of kingdom reality—salt and light. In both pictures, Jesus uses the word good to convey the essence his disciples must both protect and project in being salt and light.
“You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.”
Salt is used for both preserving food and flavoring it. But salt used in this region, often taken from the Dead Sea, risked containing different impurities that could render the salt tasteless and useless for anything but gravel to trample on. Jesus’ statement intimates part of their role is to preserve what is good in the world and to draw out its good flavors while not being diluted by its impurities.
There is much good in this world and it is worth respecting, holding onto, and cherishing. I believe one significant way Christians can do this is to actively connect with their local communities and individuals, get to know their towns and cities and neighborhoods. Visit your neighbors, farmers markets, attend local activities, take an interest in local businesses, meet the owners and employees simply because you can. I can understand when some activities are avoided for moral reasons, but avoiding the community is much like a farmer avoiding his field because there are weeds. You don’t have to become impure, but participate and celebrate what is good. I believe being a disciple in the context of Jesus’ comment here means purposing to have a positive impact on your local culture. Look for the good; flavor that good with celebration. Preserve that good with contribution. You don’t have to be of the impurities, but you do have to be in your community.
Jesus then amplifies the disciples’ kingdom witness with his usage of light.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
Oil lamps were lit to give light, not just for the occupants of a house or individuals on the street, but also so travelers on a distant dark road could see the city they were approaching. The very nature of light is to illumine. As disciples, we are to live lives that illuminate. Jesus’ statement clarifies, however, that the goodness which emanates from our lives must radiate the Father’s worth and result in the Father’s adoration. Just as these lamps were sustained by the oil, the good works we do must be based in the goodness of God. Who gets the glory often depends on how the works are done. Since the purpose of our work is to display God’s kingdom reality, it is the infinite goodness and holy worth of God that must emanate from the work we do and how we do it.
How we do this is often circumstantial, but what shapes those circumstances is the content of our character and how that character propels our commitment to good works within the community. The content of our character must first be grounded in the illuminating character of Jesus. It must be maintained with integrity, carried with care, guarded with firmness, conveyed with gentleness. Our commitment to the community must consequently be sincere, genuinely loving, permeated with patience, willing to step into the chaos to bring calm, to make visible the hope that illuminates the shadows.
The question we now need to ask ourselves is not what do people see when they look at our lives, but are our lives giving people a reason to adore God and rejoice in his goodness? Please think and pray on that very carefully.
Salt and light are helpful pictures in clarifying our role as disciple. We are to preserve and flavor our culture, celebrating and contributing to what is good. We are also to actively work and give witness to the redemptive goodness which reflects our Father’s holy infinite worth. By embracing these roles we emanate a reality that allows the world around us to “taste and see that the LORD is good.”