May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
At the grade 11 level I had three science classes to keep straight. If it is green and slimy it is biology. If it blows up it is chemistry. And if it doesn’t work it is physics. I loved my Physics teacher and I tried really hard. I remember variations on an experiment that involved building a bridge from popsicle sticks and then testing its strength by laying books across the span until it buckled under the weight. We students were testing the limits of both our skills in construction and the properties of the materials. I did not grow up to be an engineer. It was apparently not in my nature.
Today, Jesus teaches us a physics lesson. Through his examples of everyday things like salt and light, he shows us that we are created to proclaim the good news of God’s love. He may not have had a degree from a university, but Jesus shows that he understands the nature and properties of matter and energy. Then he applies them to the life of faith. Our faith. Salt and light act in certain ways because of their nature. Just so, what we do in the world reflects who we are. As disciples we have salt in us, we have light in us, and we have righteousness in us, through our Father in heaven. In the examples Jesus uses, he makes three things clear. Each is essential in nature. Each is precious. And each has a right purpose.
“You are salt for the earth. But if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?” The people of the first century regarded salt as even more important than most of us do now. It preserved food from decay, added flavour, and cleansed. It was stable- you could store a bag and it wouldn’t break down into anything else. The mere suggestion that salt could lose its saltiness was laughable to Jesus’ listeners. Either it was salt or not. They didn’t worry about it being a molecule composed of sodium and chlorine which could dissolve in water. Salt was an essential unit. It was also a very valuable commodity. Soldiers sometimes got paid in salt- hence the term salary. Before mechanization, the harvesting or mining of the mineral was a labour-intensive process. You didn’t waste it. You certainly wouldn’t throw it out even if a mouse got into your storage container (poor mouse). There’s always a way to reclaim it for use.
“You are the light of the world… no one, after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket”. Being in the middle of the dark winter months, we can appreciate how important light is. Back in Jesus’ time, there was no electricity. There was no natural gas or kerosene. Light came from candles and oil lamps, which only gave a small circle of brightness. If you were going to do any household chore after the sun went down, it was essential to have a means of seeing what you were doing. Most people couldn’t afford to put on a blaze of illumination. A day’s wages by a labourer bought about 20 minutes worth of lamplight- so usage was rationed. The one place that there was a lamp burning 24-7 was in the Temple and the synagogues. It was a sign of God’s presence in the sanctuary, so it was kept alight no matter how much it cost. High up on a lampstand, it could shine as widely as possible. No one would be so selfish and wasteful as to light a lamp and then put a cover on top to block the beams. The light would still be there underneath (unless the basket suffocated the flame and put it out), but it wouldn’t be right. It would defeat the purpose. Jesus says that if you want to see, you have to have to let the light shine. He doesn’t have to explain that visible light is a transverse electromagnetic wave between 400-700 nanometers that can be seen by the human eye unless it is physically blocked by a barrier to its photons. But the gist is the same.
So if salt can’t be changed, only used or not, and if light can’t be changed, only seen or not, what does that say about us? When Jesus goes on to talk about what human beings are for, he follows the same analogy. We are essential, we are precious, and we have a right purpose. You can’t stop being a person any more than salt can stop being salt. It’s what God made you to be, a reflection of the Father’s divine image. And we are each special in God’s sight. We matter so much that God reaches out to be in relationship with us. Through the covenant with the Jewish people, God sent lawgivers and prophetic voices to keep people on a right path. Jesus reminds his listeners that they were made fit for living this out. All they have to do is let their true nature show forth. That way, others around them can see their faith and teach others to do the same. Disciples are conductors of God’s plan to bring about the kingdom of heaven.
Now we can help or we can hinder God’s will being done. If we ignore our inner saltiness, then we aren’t doing much good. But there are opportunities in each of our daily lives to bring flavour, to cleanse, or even to be an irritant to others for the kingdom. God wants us to be salt shakers. And there are many ways to bring light to others by letting the love of Jesus Christ shine through us. Our places of worship were founded to be light-houses: not just to have a sanctuary lamp burning inside but to encourage us to give light to those beyond our doors.
The commandment to love God and to love others and to love ourselves is the summary of all the law and the prophets. Jesus teaches us simply to be authentic to our nature, which is grounded in the glory and love of our Father in heaven. Amen.