On Candle-lamps and Saltshakers
[Is.58:7-10; 1Cor.2:1-5; Mt.5:13-16]
Today’s gospel passage occurs just after Jesus gives us his Beatitudes in his Sermon on the Mount. You know them: ‘Blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers …’ These blessings outline the life and character of true Christian disciples.
Jesus then tells his followers that they are ‘the salt of the earth’ and ‘the light of the world’. What does he mean?
Today, we don’t much think about salt and light, except perhaps to reduce our salt intake and to lower our power bills. But salt was precious in ancient times. It was often traded for gold, the Greeks thought it was divine and Roman soldiers were sometimes paid in salt.
Nowadays, we take it for granted, but salt is hugely important. It cleans and heals wounds. It helps our blood flow. We use it to enhance flavour and preserve foods. It’s used to make paper, glass, fertiliser and cleaning products. It melts ice, it extinguishes fire, and in some places it’s used to intensify and preserve the colour of fabric dyes.
Salt is so very useful, but on its own it’s worthless. Rebecca Manley-Pippert, in her book Out of the Salt-Shaker, says that none of these things is possible if the salt never leaves the saltshaker. Salt is only useful when it’s mixed with something else.
Salt must also remain pure because it’s useless when it’s contaminated. It becomes corrosive and poisonous.
And so it is with us. When Jesus calls us ‘the salt of the earth’, he’s talking about our character. He’s talking about making sure we’re not polluted by the world around us. He’s talking about all the good things we can do to make our world a better place.
Each of us has the ability to add colour and flavour to our family and workplace and community – to bring things to life. Each of us has the capacity to go out and heal wounds, to help things grow, and to protect and preserve what’s good and worthwhile.
But none of this is possible if we keep our salt bottled up in our ‘salt-shaker’. If we don’t use what we have, it’s worthless. [i]
Now, Jesus also calls us ‘the light of the world’. What does he mean?
In ancient times, Palestinian families typically lived in one-room homes with only one small clay candle-lamp. Light was precious to them. But just like salt, we tend to take it for granted today.
And just like salt, light is essential for life. We need it for our health. We need it to see where we’re going and what we’re doing. Light dispels darkness, it wakes us up, it warms us and, like the lighthouse, it warns of impending danger.
Light also symbolises knowledge, truth and understanding.
Our world is a dark place. So many people today are groping and stumbling about in spiritual darkness, trying to find their way. They’re looking for a light that will lead them to safety.
All through Scripture, God is referred to as light (Is.60:1-3; Ps.27:1; 1Jn.1:5), and Jesus calls himself the light of the world (Jn.8:12).
Jesus wants us to absorb his divine light, to make it a part of ourselves. When we open ourselves up to him, when we let his light penetrate us, it changes us from within and we start to think and live like him.
When that happens, God’s light shines through us, just as the sun lights up stained-glass windows.
It’s said that when the Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson was a boy, he once watched an old lamplighter lighting lamps in the street. He said to his nurse, ‘I’m watching a man put holes in the darkness’.
Who do you know who’s putting holes in the darkness today? Who is sharing their salt and light with the world? I can think of some examples:
Fred Hollows, the eye doctor who has restored the sight of a million people around the world. [ii]
Rosie Batty, who’s been campaigning against domestic violence ever since her partner killed their son. [iii]
And Danny and Leila Abdallah, whose three children were killed by a drunk driver in Western Sydney only last week. Despite their profound grief, they’ve forgiven the driver, they’re promoting peace and they’ve been ministering to the needs of others. [iv]
There are many others, of course, doing all sorts of wonderful things. But being salt and light is fundamental to our Christian identity. It’s who we are.
We are not meant to leave our salt in our saltshaker. And we must light our candle-lamps for all to see.
In what way are you salt
and light to our world?
[i] Rebecca Manley-Pippert, Out of the Salt-Shaker and into the World. InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. 1999.