The salt in common use in Jesus’ time was not always very pure. It had been dug out of the salt pans by the Dead Sea, and would have many impurities in it both from the lake and blown in from the land. The sodium chloride over time could leach out, especially if exposed to a damp atmosphere, and the tasteless impurities be left.
Jesus told his followers that they were the salt of the earth. Just as salt adds flavour and acts as a preservative, so our presence in the world gives it a good taste to God, and preserves it from becoming as bad as could be. However, there is a danger that we might ‘lose our flavour’ and cease to have that effect. If we no longer live close to Jesus, learning from him and led by him, there will be nothing in our lives that can make a worth while difference to the world we live in.
That’s no good to God!
Jesus makes the same point with a different illustration. A lamp can only make a difference when it is lit and is in the right place.
However, this picture brings out another aspect: the light has to be in the right place, on a stand so that it gives light to all. (Similarly, salt is no good kept in a sack – it needs to be used.) Our lives are not only to be lived close to Jesus; they need to be lived out in the real world where they can make a difference.
Jesus goes on to teach what kind of a life really makes a difference. It is a life lived in close relationship with God, and that involves a life of obedience to God’s commands – not just the letter of the law, but the spirit and intention of it. In the next section Jesus spells out some examples of this. But first he makes the general point that God’s will is of supreme importance. Although his teaching may appear to contradict some of the Old Testament law, in reality it is going to the heart of it. Some laws have fulfilled their purpose and now must be set aside; but the will of God can never be set aside. And we do God’s will not so much by religious activity and rigorous adherence to the rules; true righteousness is a matter of the heart.
1) What people can you think of who set an example of being ‘salt and light’? What can you learn from them?
2) What does true religion look like?