Jesus tells us we are to be ‘Salt’ and ‘Light’ to the world. The phrase ‘Salt of the Earth’ has gone down in colloquial English to refer to someone who is perceived to be of ‘high quality’. Someone who would do anything for anyone. Interesting then how Christians has mainly thought that this means that we are to be ‘preservative’ for the world….
It’s also interesting how I found what respected Christian writer Jeremy Myers has to say about the ‘Salt and Light’ of Jesus’s parable:
“One of the metaphors Jesus used to describe how we work and function within the world is His picture of salt and light. Jesus said that His followers would be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matt 5:13-14).
“In our churches, we accurately teach that in biblical times, salt was a preservative. And based on that fact, we think that Jesus is telling us we need to be the world’s preservative. We need to defend and protect the culture and society against all decay and filth. We try to preserve what is good and upright in society and culture. We embark on political activism by endorsing pro-life, pro-family, and anti homosexual political candidates. We picket the strip clubs and hold rallies to get prayer back in school. We write letters to the editor and rent billboard space on the interstate. We believe that it is the Christian duty to moralize the behavior of the world.
“We do similar things with the image of light. We try to be as big and as bright as possible, thinking that this will draw people to Jesus and reveal the truth of God’s Word. So we try to get noticed in the community. We “go big” and make a splash. We spend money on advertising, and do our best to match the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. We hope that if people notice us, and we can look popular and relevant, they will want to be part of us. But it rarely works.
“And so some churches go the opposite route, and simply try to burn the sin out of others. These churches seem to believe that if our holiness and righteousness can shine as bright and hot as the sun, then all evil within ten miles of the church will scurry back into the hole it came from. These churches think it is our job to point out every person’s sin, shining the spotlight upon any who fall out of line, and in so doing, call people to repentance. But this rarely works either, and usually the only sin that gets revealed is the hypocrisy of the church.
“And really, the sin in society and culture just seems to grow. So churches redouble their efforts and either go bigger or shout louder. But nothing seems to slow this downward spiral into moral decay. Some critics of the church argue that the efforts of Christians have only exacerbated the decline.
“It is probably time to recognize then, that the church has gone about being salt and light in the wrong way. We have tried to be noticed. We have tried to influence. We have tried to get into positions of leadership and power. We have tried to shout people into submission, and beat them into obedience. It doesn’t work, and in fact, it turns out to be a complete misunderstanding of Jesus’ metaphor about salt and light.
“When Jesus teaches about salt, He says nothing about preservation. We are to be salt, but not to preserve. Though they did use salt to preserve food in the days of Jesus, there was another use for salt as well: Just like today, salt was used for flavor. It is the flavoring characteristics of salt that Jesus mentions in His metaphor.
“And as a flavor, salt should not be noticed. It is there to enhance the flavor; not overwhelm it. Have you ever eaten a dish with too much salt? When I was younger, someone in the family made a batch of cookies and accidentally switched the sugar and the salt. Those cookies were not a family favorite. At the same time, when salt is called for in a favorite dish, but is left out, the dish tastes bland. Salt brings out the flavor in food, and shouldn’t be noticed until it’s gone.
“The same is true of light. Light is helpful for life, but too much light is harmful. It should not be blinding, glaring, or harsh. But when the lighting is just right, you don’t notice it until it is gone. In the teaching by Jesus, He talks about giving light to those in the house (Matt 5:15). Clearly, He is not talking about a light with the intensity of the sun. He is talking about a nice, warm fire in the hearth, or a few candles placed in strategic places around the room. They give off a nice glow and let people go about their work or leisure. The light goes unnoticed, without blinding or distracting those who are in its presence.
“This is the way of the church when we follow Jesus into the world. We are present in all areas with others, working among them, eating where they eat, visiting the places they visit, enjoying the same activities. But we are a hidden influence. A small dash of salt, which goes unnoticed, but provides the spark of life and intensity of flavor which is missing when we are not around. We are a light, showing the way forward and guiding people onto the way of truth, whether they recognize it or not. When we are not around, things seem less clear. When we are salt and light, people cannot put a finger on why they want us around, but they know they do.
“We must find the right balance between not enough and too much if we want to be salt and light. We need to exist in our communities in a way that helps them exist and function with all the flavor and color that God intended, but not in a way that we are distasteful or harsh. We need to exist in a way that is influential, but unnoticed. We need to exist in such a way that the only time we really are noticed is when we are gone.
“So as we follow Jesus into the world, He pretty much leads us into the places where we are already living and working. He leads us over the neighborhood diner, to eat and laugh with the regulars. He leads us down to the ball game, to cheer on the local team with our friends. We follow Him to our jobs, where we work as the most honest and diligent employees (or managers) the company has ever seen.
“When we are ready, Jesus may lead us other places as well. Like maybe over to your neighbor’s house when his wife dies. Or down under the bridge, to bring tarps and potato chips to the homeless. Even down to the street corner to hang out with the prostitutes while they wait for work”
From ‘The Skeleton Church’ by Jeremy Myers, pgs 47-49, quoted with his permission.
You can get a copy of The Skeleton church by subscribing to Jeremy’s mailing list at RedeemingGod.com – no strings attached!