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"Tasty and Lit Up"

According to Matthew, Jesus looked out into the crowd that day and said, “Y’all are the salt of the earth …” and later, “Y’all are the light of the world …”

By Bear and Birch Designs

Matthew 5:13-20

February 5, 2023

Dr. Todd R. Wright According to Matthew, Jesus looked out into the crowd that day and said, “Y’all are the salt of the earth …” and later, “Y’all are the light of the world …” I imagine the crowd could hardly believe their ears. Earlier Matthew had described them as being from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan. He said they were, or brought with them, all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics. They were defined by what they lacked. They had no health, no strength, no energy, no wind, no freedom, no control, no independence. That much sickness meant they had no money, no food, no power, and almost no hope. Almost. You see, word had reached them of Jesus preaching about a heavenly kingdom on the horizon and healing people. That was enough to drive them to leave everything and seek him out. Nothing else had worked. No one else had helped. But he might. They hoped so. But when they got there, he let out a string of strange blessings as if the poor were promised the kingdom of heaven; as if the grieving were promised comfort; as if the hungry and thirsty would be filled; as if the persecuted would be rewarded by God.

And then he had the nerve to say to this crowd of the bruised and broken that they were salt and light! It was crazy talk! No one had ever called them that before. Salt was valuable. (Roman soldiers were paid in it.) But they were worthless. Light can chase away the shadows. But not if you can’t afford lamp oil. Salt acts as a preservative. It can clean and heal wounds. But they are the wounded. Light shines a spotlight on injustice and unfairness. But they are the oppressed. Salt makes everything else in a dish taste better. But their presence was just a burden. Light cheers the soul and warms the room. How could Jesus see them that way?


You can understand their bewilderment. You probably don’t feel much like salt and light most days, even when you’re at your best. And when you are sick or run down, overworked or overwhelmed, being tasty or lit up seems like too much to ask. Here’s the thing, though: Jesus is not asking. He is simply stating a reality: “Y’all are the salt of the earth. Y’all are the light of the world.” That is your nature. That is your place in the world. That is who God created you to be. Notice the plural – y’all. Jesus is talking to the crowd, not singling out individuals. The implication is that we can only be salty when we are part of a community. We can only shine when we join with others. Because some days we need to lean on others to bring the salt or the light … and some days they will lean on us. Fortunately, we are not alone. Neither were the people who made up the crowd. They were God’s chosen people, beloved, and part of a covenant. Sickness did not change that. Nor did poverty or powerlessness. They were still salt and light. We are too.


Unless we choose not to be. Jesus is quite specific: nothing can stop a light from shining in the darkness, but it can be covered, if someone puts a bushel basket over it. In a sermon in 1937, just prior to his arrest, Martin Niemöller referenced this passage: “What are we worrying about? When I read out the names [of church members missing or arrested], did we not think: ‘Alas, will this wind, this storm, not blow out the Gospel candle? We must therefore take the message in out of the storm and put it in a safe nook.’ It is ... during these days that I have realized – that I have understood – what the Lord Jesus Christ means when He says: ‘Do not take up the bushel! I have not lit the candle for you to put it under the bushel, in order to protect it from the wind. Away with the bushel! The light should be placed upon a candlestick! ...’ We are not to worry whether the light is extinguished or not; that is [God’s] concern: we are only to see that the light is not hidden away perhaps with a noble intent, so that we may bring it out again in calmer times — no: – ‘Let your light shine!’”[2] That’s the danger isn’t it? That we put a bushel basket over our light. Or skimp on the salt. We might justify our actions with many excuses: we might protest that there isn’t enough salt or light to share; or we might just be so focused on internal ministry that we ignore the needs of world; or as Niemöller said, we might fear that the gospel message or Christ’s work will offend, so we are better to keep quiet and invisible and out of the storm that is rattling the windows of our world.

Those would be good reasons if we were some other sort of community, but we are the church. That means we are followers of Christ … the one who fed the 5,000 with two fish and five loaves so we might know there is enough; the one who drew a bigger circle – salt of the whole earth/light of every corner of the world; and the one who will be quoted elsewhere in Matthew’s gospel, “Do not worry about your life,” and “Do not fear those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul,” and “Remember I am with you always, to the end of the age.”[3] So spice things up! Shine boldly! You are God’s people. Act like it! Amen

[1] See [2] From his sermon , “The Salt of the Earth” 6/19/37 [3] See Matthew 6:25, 10:28, and 28:20
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