Loud voices today insist there is no God, leaving us adrift on the ocean of life without an agreed moral compass. Persuasive voices appeal to our basic, albeit unthinking instincts, while the profounder, wiser voices that speak to the depths of our souls are drowned out.

Into this world of confusion and noise, anger and division, Jesus’ timeless words to all his followers stand out: “You are the salt of the earth” and “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13, 14).

Jesus’ metaphor of salt is double-edged: his followers are to bring out the flavor of what it means to be men and women; we are also to act as a preservative, slowing down the decay of society. Both a tall order!

He has in mind the impact of the counter-cultural lifestyle he has just identified in his eight beatitudes – the ‘blessed’ who would experience the incomparable joys of God’s kingdom (Matthew 5:3-12). They are the people who understand their spiritual poverty before God, who mourn their failure to honor God and who grieve for a world that turns its back on God; they are ones who, instead of engaging in the power play and deceptions of the world, walk the tougher path of humility and service, truth and peace.

Indeed, it was because Jesus knew humanity without God would always spiral away from truth and goodness, that he called on his followers to be the salt of the earth. He expects everyone of us who has turned to him in repentance and faith, to live in a way that exemplifies the beauty, goodness and joy of Godly living, and slow down the rot of self-interest and greed, of injustice and the unchecked power-play of social elites. Today’s world either ignores or simply rejects the reality that none of us is good. We’re all flawed.

As Jesus was all too aware the world needs good and godly examples pointing to him and his kingdom. But this will only happen when his followers don’t become insipid. That’s why he warns against salt losing its saltiness: “…if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet” (Matthew 5:13b).

NaCl is a stable compound. However, in the ancient world, salt was obtained more from salt marshes and contained many impurities. The actual salt could be leeched out, leaving a substance that tasted salty but in fact was worthless. ‘Watch out,’ Jesus warns, ‘that you don’t become insipid, wishy-washy fools’.

How do people view you? Do you claim to be a believer, but your life remains unchanged? Is your lifestyle directed by the culture or by the Bible? Are you just as greedy, unforgiving, and as selfish as everyone around you? ‘If you call yourself a follower of mine,’ Jesus says, ‘let your life be transformed by my words, for “You are the salt of the earth”’.

In his Letter to the Colossians Paul the Apostle writes: Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time… Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone (4:5-6).

Salt here is a metaphor for sparkling conversations that trigger questions about life. Have you considered ways you could use news items and opinion columns to ask questions and spark conversations about the goodness of God and his good news?

“You are the light of the world…” Jesus continues (Matthew 5:14). Negatively he is saying that there is a darkness about our human existence – something we easily forget because we live in an age that has turned away from God’s compass bearings.

Up until the 1970s morality in the West was grounded in the Judaeo-Christian ethic. But now all has changed. Few leaders anywhere would challenge the prevailing assumption that there is no morally binding objective authority or truth above the individual.

Some 700 years before Jesus was born, Isaiah wrote of the birth of God’s King. In chapter 9 he speaks of the people walking in darkness and seeing a great light: On those living in a land where the shadow of death falls, a light has dawned. A child will be born. He will be called “Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.”

Indeed, in John chapter 8 we read Jesus’ electrifying words: “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life”. God, the source of all true light, has come into our world in person. Jesus, the light who reveals God, calls us out from the darkness of our own ego into the light.

But how will our world today come to know him? “You are the light of the world,” Jesus says. “A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 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…” (Matthew 5:14f).

‘Everything you are, everything you do,’ Jesus says, ‘must reflect all I have taught you.’ He expects us to reflect the light of God in our lives to the world. Yet do we? Do we endeavor to live out what he teaches in his Sermon on the Mount? Or do we hide the light of our faith?

“Let your light shine before others,” Jesus says, “so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven…” (Matthew 5:16).

‘Live your life in the light of my words,’ he says, ‘and others will be drawn to my light and love’. It’s an awesome thought. We’re all involved. When we’re tempted to despair at the moral decline around us, we need to ask ourselves, ‘How do my family and friends, my colleagues see me? Just like everyone else, or as someone who knows the hope and the joy of God’s gospel?’

Jesus calls us to two tasks – to be salt and light. As salt we are to play our part as Godly examples of what it means to be men and women and so slow down society’s decay. As light we are to awaken people to God’s truth, with its hope and joy. Beware therefore of sin or compromise that reduces your Godly influence as salt. Beware of hiding the light of your faith through laziness or fear.

How are we to do this in a world that thinks it has all the answers? Ask questions. Ask if there is any real and long-lasting hope in the noise of today. And look for ways to show how good God is.

Pray for God’s grace that the light in your life will shine for everyone to see – in your kindness and care for others; in the way you cope with the challenges of life. Jesus will use our good works and our words to draw people to his light so that on the last day they too will glorify God. “You are the salt of the earth,… You are the light of the world.”

Prayers: God, our refuge and strength, the author of all godliness, hear the prayers of your people: and so grant us that whatever we ask for in faith we may surely obtain; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Teach us, gracious Lord, to begin our works with reverence, to go on in obedience, and finish them with love; and then to wait patiently in hope, and with cheerful countenance to look up to you, whose promises are faithful and rewards infinite; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

© John G. Mason

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