Who Are We?

Posted by on Feb 12, 2014 in Faith Words |

“Who Are We?”
Matthew 5:13-16
February 9, 2014

Salt is one of those common everyday items; you will find it in most households.  The physiological need of salt by the human body is immediate and life sustaining. Without salt, any animal, including the human beings, would die. There are many things that we can live without; salt is not one of them!
According to the Salt Institute, over a billion dollars were spent on salt in the United States alone using about 24 ½ million tons of salt. The highest portion of that was used during the winter.
Jesus told his disciples “you are the salt of the earth” Matthew 5:13
In biblical times salt was seen as an important substance:
1. It was so highly valued that it was used for money. The English word “salary” is derived from the Latin word “salarium,” which refers to the payments made to a Roman soldier with salt. We still use the phrase saying that someone either is, or is not, “worth their salt.”
2. It was believed to have healing properties. The normal procedure when a child was born was to cut the cord, wash the infant with water and then rub the child with salt.
3.   Salt was understood as a symbol of a relationship. “It is a covenant of salt forever before the Lord with you and your descendants with you.” (Numbers 18:19)  So salt also represented a relationship. It represented hospitality that cemented friendship.  There is an Arab saying: “There is salt between us.”
4. It was a preservative. Salt was important for survival, because it was the only way they had to preserve meat or fish. Obviously, they were not as privileged as we are with refrigeration. The salt was rubbed into the substance before it was stored to prevent decay.
5. It was used as a fuel source for cooking. In biblical times each village had a common oven.  One of the duties a young girl had to learn was to collect dung, mix salt in it, and mold it into patties to be left to dry in the sun. (In the Middle East and Third world countries such dung patties are still used today.) A slab of salt was placed at the base of the oven and upon it the salted dung patty. The salt’s catalytic properties cased the dung to burn.
“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out to be trampled underfoot.”
Now at first blush this is a little difficult to understand. Sodium chloride is a stable compound. If you pour the granules out of your saltshaker and it is not salty, somebody played a trick on you because pure salt does not go bad.   But that salt did not exist back in the first century.  In the part of the world where Jesus lived, salt was collected from around the Dead Sea where the crystals were often contaminated with other minerals. These crystalized formations were full of impurities, and since the actual salt was more soluble than the impurities, the water could wash out the salt, which made what was left of little worth since it lost its saltiness. When this happened, the salt was thrown out, since it was no longer of any value.
What Jesus is saying in these verses is that if we as his followers are going to change the world we have to be pure salt – the real thing, authentic.
Being the “salt of the earth” implies that we have some function to perform, some responsibility in this kingdom of which Jesus speaks. Being the salt of the earth isn’t about being something great and wonderful on our own; no, it’s about being the ones who bring out the great and wonderful things of God’s kingdom to others.
One of my favorite Peanuts cartoons showed Peppermint Patty talking to Charlie Brown. She said, “Guess what, Chuck. The first day of school and I got sent to the principal’s office. It was your fault, Chuck.” He said, “My fault? How could it be my fault? Why do you say everything is my fault?” She said, “You’re my friend, aren’t you, Chuck? You should have been a better influence on me.”
You might think Peppermint Patty was trying to not take responsibility for her own actions, and I would agree.  But she also makes a point: our behavior influences others. It just happens naturally. We choose if we will be a positive or a negative influence.
As followers of Jesus Christ we can be a positive influence. We can help them know they have value – when they think they are worthless. Our good behavior can help them stay away – or if they are already involved, turn away – from things they are doing that are destroying their life.
Our actions can provide healing from the wounds they are suffering, not by making ourselves the focus because salt is never the focus, but just by living with them and sprinkling the love of Jesus around. We are salt; but we are also light.
“You are the light of the world. 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. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
Palestinian homes were generally dark, having one small window. They did not have electricity and light bulbs as we have. Their light consisted of a lamp which was a bowl filled with oil that had a wick. When they needed light the lamp was placed on a lamp stand. The most difficult thing of having this light in the house was in lighting the lamp. Remember, they didn’t have matches or cigarette lighters.  As a result, no one wanted to let their light go out because it took too much work to get the wick lit again. But when people went out of the house it was dangerous to leave the light on, so for safety reasons when they left their homes the lamp would be taken from its lamp stand and placed under an earthen vessel where it could burn risk free. As soon as someone returned they would put the lamp on the stand. Those who heard Jesus’ words were probably nodding their head in agreement and laughing. It would be a ridiculous thing to go to the work of lighting a lamp with the intention of only putting it under a basket or earthen vessel. They understood the only reason to go to the work of lighting the wick was to let the light shine to the maximum.
“Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
Jesus said his followers are to be light and light is pretty amazing, so long as it’s illuminating something else. Light by itself can be pointless, even destructive. That’s why Jesus says we are to let our light shine before others, not ourselves, so that those others may see our good works and give glory – not to us, but to God. Did you catch that? It’s subtle, but, oh, it’s so very important. We shine as the light of the world not for our own sake, but for the sake of others. We give light so that others may see the way of God. In the end, it isn’t really even our light that shines forth after all: it is God’s light.