“You are the salt of the earth … You are the light of the world.” – Matthew 5:13;14
“Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me.”
That the old adage about sticks and stones has been bouncing around for more than a century. I guess whoever coined it wanted to soothe the feelings of children (and grown-ups too) who have been the victim of unkind words.
But do you believe that it’s true? I don’t! Of course words can hurt you, they can hurt you deeply. They can cut to the very core of who you are. They can wound your heart.
We have been hearing words spoken and written about us all our lives. What have those words meant to us, and how have they affected us? Every now and then it is good to stop and take a look at the words we’ve been hearing about ourselves What messages have they sent, and how much have be believed?
Think of the words we hear as kids, from our playmates, or teachers, or even at home: “You’re ugly.” “You’re fat,” “You’re stupid,” “You’re incapable,” “You’re clumsy,” “You’re inept.” Has anyone ever told you anything like that? Have you believed it? If you hear words like this often enough they begin to define who you are. “There is death and life in the power of the tongue.” (Proverbs 18:21)
Think of how powerful words of condemnation or criticism are in the mouth of a parent. “You’ll never amount to anything, young man/young woman.” “You’ll never amount to anything.” That’s a powerful message to a child, especially from the lips of a trusted adult. If you hear that long enough you begin to believe it. And so people who have heard “You’ll never amount to anything,” begin to live into the reality of failure. They think: “I’ll never amount to anything,” so they won’t try to amount to anything, so they don’t amount to anything. Words of condemnation become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Communist China’s late dictator, Mao Tse-tung said: “if you repeat a lie a hundred times it becomes the truth.” That, in a nutshell, is the big lie technique of all successful propagandists. If you tell a lie long enough and loud enough, then enough people will believe it.
The same is true of the lies we are told about ourselves: if we hear over and over that we are stupid, we’ll assume it to be so and never even try to use our minds at the level of our true capability. If a child is told often enough that he can’t learn then he won’t even try to learn. Words spoken to us (and the words we speak, as well) have tremendous power – and they can profoundly hurt us.
When I was a kid I was into everything: I would touch things, and play with things, and want to know how things worked. That was great, but there was a down side to my curiosity: I also managed to drop and break my fair share of things. For example, my parents had a beautiful, hand made maple bookcase with glass doors that had beautiful wooden lattice work on them. I was fascinated by that lattice work. One day, to get a better look at it, I pulled it off completely the doors, ruining the bookcase in the process. My mother wasn’t pleased with that, or with me. In the process of scolding me she said: “Richie, you have dangerous hands.”
Every time I broke something, and every time I went near something my mom thought I might break, she would remind me again: “Don’t touch that, you’ve got dangerous hands.”
Now look at who the adult is. My father could fix anything; I have to think about which way to turn a screwdriver. I majored in philosophy in college, not engineering. I have a degree in law, not mechanics. I read books, I don’t do things with my hands. I don’t even garden. I don’t touch anything concrete. I have lived into the message my parents gave me about myself – and how much unrealized potential has been the victim of those simple, words “you have dangerous hands.” I have never painted a picture, or fixed an appliance, or played an instrument, or done any woodwork. If you have dangerous hands you simply don’t use them.
All of us have been limited by the lies told us about ourselves that we have internalized and made our own.
Jesus speaks a different truth into our lives. He tells us what the Father knows us to be. His Sermon on the Mount gives us an opportunity hear the words that God speaks into our lives not to limit us but to show us our true God-given potential. As Francis of Assisi said, “we are what we are in God’s eyes,” nothing more or less.
In the Beatitudes, Jesus tells us that God loves and blesses the most seemingly insignificant of his people. In fact, to him there are no insignificant people, all are blessed. He said to the weakest, the lowest, the most marginalized, the poorest that they, EVEN THEY, are blessed and loved by God. Amazing words in a society that believed that the poor and suffering were simply “getting what they deserved” because of their sins or the sins of their relatives or ancestors.
Quite the contrary, according to Jesus, God has a special place in his heart for the broken and the broken-hearted. So when you’re poor, or mourning or meek, or persecuted, when the world doesn’t honor who you are, your Father in heaven showers you with love. Blessed are you.
No one earns that blessing, it is given us as a gift of the God who IS love.
Jesus speaks a word to his disciples, then and now, to tell us what God calls us: “You are the salt of the earth.” he says; “You are the Light of the world.
That’s who we really are, we’re salt. If you read the sentence in Greek you will see that the word “you” is stressed. It’s stressed by actually using the word, since the use of pronoun which is unnecessary in Greek and only used for emphasis; and it’s in the plural, so it’s clearly intended for every follower of Jesus who hears these words.
You are the salt of the earth.
What is so special about salt? What’s so good about being the salt of the earth? What does salt do?
First, salt gives flavor, no one would want to cook without it. You only need a little bit of salt but it changes and improves the taste of almost every dish you make.
Salt not only gives flavor, it preserves things. In Jesus’ day, before refrigeration, salting food was among the best way to preserve food. So salt preserves, it flavors. It is also nature’s antibiotic. Even a simple salt bath can heal and soothe the body. Salt not only has antiseptic properties, it is also an anti-inflammatory agent and helps stimulate the lymphatic drainage system. Have you ever heard the expression, “Rub salt in a wound”? That is not to make the wound feel worse. It’s to heal because salt is a natural healing element. The salt helps create an antibacterial environment to help the wound recover faster. The salt also helps dry the wound because salt absorbs water.
So salt flavors, it preserves, and it heals.
Salt was so useful in the ancient world that the Roman legions were often paid in salt. We have a reminder of that in the English language: our English word salary comes from the Latin word salarius which means salt. The Romans also had an expression that shows the importance they placed on salt: “Nil utilius sole et sale.” “Nothing is so useful as the sun and salt.”
When Jesus says “You are the salt of the earth” He is telling his disciples that they are precious. There is nothing so useful and so valuable as a genuine follower of Jesus of Nazareth: they have inestimable value. There is a caveat, though. Salt has value because it is useful: sitting in a salt shaker it is doing nothing. Disciples are to be the salt of THE EARTH. We bring flavor, and healing, and abundance to the world that desperately needs to hear good news that is only found in Christ Jesus.
We are called to bring the flavor, and healing and abundance of our Christ to the world that the Father loves and longs to save. We bring his gospel, we bring his love, we bring the good news of his saving cross. We bring hope! There is nothing more valuable than that.
The only way we can lose our saltiness is the only way salt can lose its saltiness. Salt is a rock, the only edible mineral. Salt can’t become un-salt any more than granite can become grass. Salt is what it is. The only way to devalue salt is to adulterate it. You throw a little sawdust in with it and it is no good to anyone any more.
So be careful about adulteration. We are to give flavor to the world, the world is not to give flavor to us. We are to bring good news to the world, the world is not supposed to bring its message and its values and its brokenness to us. The more we become like everybody else, the less we become who we are meant to be: the salt of the earth.
Jesus goes on, “You are the light or the world.” Light is absolutely essential for life. Nothing grows, nothing lives, without the sun. Because of the sun we have photosynthesis and consequently we have broccoli, and asparagus, and all that vegetables that we need to stay healthy.
Did you ever walk in a dark room with absolutely no lights? Good luck with your shins, because if you don’t know exactly where the coffee table is you’re going to fall right on top of it. If you’ve got a dog, like I do, you don’t know where she is in that dark room; not only are you in danger, so is she. Just a little bit of light though, just a candle, and everything becomes clear enough to maneuver.
Father James Keller was a Catholic priest who founded the group called The Christophers back in 1945. The purpose of the Christophers was to encourage people in all walks of life to use their God-given talents to make a positive difference; to be light in a world of darkness. The motto of the Christophers is the ancient Chinese proverb: “It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.”
We are God’s candles. We are the light he has sent into the world.
Light’s a funny thing. You can’t see light but you can’t see without it. There’s light the room you’re sitting in, but you can’t point to it. If you hold your hand out there is light in it, but you can’t see it. You know it’s there, though, because you can see your hand hand. We are called to be like that: to reveal the world to itself. You are the light of the world.
What world? The world that God loved so much that he sent his only son into it so that it might be saved. The world of imperfection and sin, the world of empty values and false hopes; the world that, even today, rebels against it’s creator. We’re here to light up that world with the light of Christ.
All those words that you’ve been hearing about yourself all your life: “You’re too fat, you’re too skinny, you’re too young, you’re too old, you’re a klutz, you’re not smart enough, you’re not tall enough,” all of those things that tell you who you aren’t, are all lies. Cancel them out because this is what you are: you are the light of the word, you are the salt of the earth. And don’t take it on my account. This is Jesus talking to you.
Notice Jesus doesn’t say “someday you can be the light of the world,” or “if you work really hard you’ll be the light of the world.” You’re the light of the world right now, just the way you are. With all your faults and flaws and imperfections you are bringing His light into the darkness. We are called to reveal the world to itself by bringing it the good news of Jesus, through which everything else is made clear.
How can anyone know right and wrong, good and evil, safety and danger unless they know the gospel of Jesus? And the only way for people to know the gospel of Jesus is through us. We need to know and live as Christ’s beloved friends. We need to be made new in Christ. That’s the promise of our faith. Jesus changes us, and through us changes the world.
Listen to Isaiah. Isaiah, when he’s chewing out the people of Israel says, essentially, “Give me a break. Your prayers, you’re fasting, you’re drawing near to me, all that stuff means nothing. This is what I want. Loosen the bonds of the oppressed. Live righteously. Care for the poor. Free those in bondage.” In other words, don’t just talk about God, and don’t just talk to God; live as he calls you to live. Be the Good News you proclaim,
Paul says “In Christ we are a new creation.” We are to be utterly transformed by our faith in Christ. Don’t let your salt get adulterated by the values and lies and chicanery of the world. Don’t let your light be hidden under a bushel basket or stuck in a building (not even a church). Your light needs to be shining out there so that everyone will see.
Everyone. Not just your friends and the family, not only the people that agree with you, but everyone in our homes, in our neighborhoods, in our work places.
None of us has “dangerous hands.” God has given us our hands, and all our different gifts, to bring his message to the ends of the earth. Use them, and use them with confidence. After all You are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world.