The Beatitudes not only give us a glimpse of what life looks like inside the Kingdom of God, but they also flip the world’s values upside-down. As Rev. Jay Smith says, the Beatitudes are a “radical reordering of our values.” That reordering helps us live rightly, but all this right living isn’t in an attempt to get into the kingdom. It’s how we live because we’re already in it!
Inhabitants of the Kingdom of God don’t hoard; they don’t live from scarcity but from abundance. Kingdom dwellers share the love and mercy they’ve been given–all the while, extending invitations for others to be included. To help us understand what that invitation looks like, Jesus uses the metaphors of salt and light.
First Jesus exhorts us to be like salt:
“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.”Matthew 5:13, NRSV
Salt has history–going back as far as 6050 BC when civilizations bartered with salt and offered it as part of their religious sacrifices. Even Old Testament passages capture the way God made ‘salt covenants’ with His priests (Numbers 18:19) and how priests used salt in sacrifices (Leviticus 2:13 and Ezekiel 43:23). Salt remained so highly valued that even by the first century (AD), the Romans often paid their soldiers with salt. Fun fact: this is where we get the term “salary.”
Salt has purpose–purifying and preserving, namely from decay. It has been used in tanning, dying, bleaching, and in making pottery and soap. And, of course, it adds flavor to food.
Salt has effects–particularly in bodies and soil. Too much salt in our bodies, and we retain water that makes our hearts work harder under the strain of higher blood volume. Too little salt in our bodies, and our fluid levels get out of balance, causing our blood pressure to drop. Similarly, plants suffer when soil is too salty but starve when there’s no salt.
So, as we look at this single verse, it’s easy to wonder if “salt of the earth” refers to salt in the soil. There is, after all, saline matter that fertilizes soil, making it ready for growth. In that sense, when we’re called to be the salt of the earth, we’re meant to sow into people’s hearts the truth and love of Jesus, enriching the world–like compost.
The very next phrase, however, makes reference to salt as a condiment, adding flavor to all it touches. In this way, salt makes food taste better. And the way we live our lives can do the same for the world. When we live with kindness and joy, mercy and humility, we bring out the fuller flavor of God and His ways.
It’s curious that in our current culture, nonbelievers assume a Christian’s life is bland. Boring. Maybe because for too long we’ve lived our lives as a demonstration of rules and limitations. When, in reality, life with Jesus–when lived in freedom and fullness of grace–is actually the richest, tastiest life possible on this planet.
Just putting that into words is so convicting. How many times have I failed to live an appetizing life for Jesus? Rather than modeling a flavorful faith and a radical love for others, I’ve held back out of fear of offending someone. How many times have I not entered conversations, bursting with joy about Jesus, and instead withdrawn to the shadows out of a fear of being different?
To be the salt in the earth we must first drink deeply from Jesus’ well. Filled with Him, we’ll better live out of His perfect love. Engaging with people with that love as we drive our cars or wait in lines exudes a unique flavor in our society. Praying with someone who is broken helps them taste and see the Lord is good. Speaking with a genuine smile of kindness to all who serve us–at restaurants, grocery stores, and dry cleaners–sprinkles that salt of Jesus all over the people we encounter.
One of the sources I frequent in my writing is Strong’s Concordance. It compiles all the words in the Bible–their meanings and uses. In this particular sentence, the Greek word for salt in both instances is hálas, and it means salt. No surprise there, but Strong’s included this figurative definition, as well: “God preserving and seasoning a believer as they grow, i.e. in loving the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind, strength and in all their relationships.”
I love that imagery of God preserving us–maintaining us in the state of holiness that is found only through Jesus. He keeps us from spoiling ourselves with sin because of Jesus’ sacrifice. God also seasons us, folding into us all the flavors of Himself, making Himself a tantalizing treat so that we’ll hunger for Him. And through us, others will also want more of Him because they’ve gotten a taste of Him by knowing us.
In the next breath, Jesus tells us we need to shine bright for Him:
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. 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.”Matthew 5:14-16
Light is powerful. In the beginning, God speaks a word, and light appears and pushes darkness back. As a child, I could open my bedroom door at night, and the light from the living room would pierce inward, overtaking the darkness. Never once did I open that door and darkness push outward. Light always swallows the shadows and the depths of darkness.
So when Jesus tells us that we are light, He wants us to go into the world as His beacons–vessels that carry what’s in us into cities and streets and homes and churches, so they can have His light, too. But,
- When I talk myself out of calling a friend that I know is hurting because I don’t know what to say, I’m hiding Jesus’ light under the bushel.
- When I choose not to listen to the Spirit’s nudging to give a hug or say a prayer because I’m worried about looking silly, I’m hiding Jesus’ light under the bushel.
- When I stay in the house because I’m way too comfortable with my slower lifestyle and quiet practices rather than inviting a lonely neighbor for a walk, I’m hiding Jesus’ light under the bushel.
All we say, all we do is meant to be a reflection of the One we love and live for. We’re meant to let our little lights shine–however that looks. And it will look differently for each of us.
Chris Tomlin came out with an album right after our move to Texas–in the middle of the pandemic insanity when we were all stir crazy in our solitary states. I had that album on replay because it offered a lifeline to joy and hope. But one song, “Be the Moon,” grabbed my heart more than all the others.
“I wanna be the moon, up among the stars.
Fly around the world, lighting up the dark.
I’m nothing without the Son’s amazing grace on everything I do.
If You’re shining on me, I’m shining right back for You.”
These lyrics give Jesus’ call to be the light another metaphor. Just as the moon reflects the light of the sun onto the parts of the planet stuck in the darkness of night, we are meant to reflect the light of the Son onto all the people on the planet who don’t yet know His saving power.
When we live in the Kingdom of God, God is always near–we’re never alone and never need to be afraid (Smith, 77). Every citizen of the Kingdom plays for the same team, so there’s no competing or calling fouls. There’s only gobs of grace. Inside our inheritance, God is with us, protecting us and fighting for us (Smith, 76).*
But, for the people who aren’t part of the Kingdom, they’re feeling alone and scared. They’re on their own. No one stands up for them or lets them know they are unconditionally loved.
Friend, this is why after painting the beautiful picture of what kingdom living looks like, King Jesus tells us–His heirs–to share what we’ve been given. Because His is a kingdom of inclusion. All are welcome at His table, so we better start getting those invitations delivered!
Be salty. And shine bright!
- How did your week go, fasting from one thing that you end up desiring more than God? Comment your experiences because it helps you get honest and encourages the rest of us. 🙂
- I’m no morning person, so sleep ends up being one thing I want more than God–especially when the alarm goes off. This week I’ve been getting up earlier to have more time with God. Thursday was especially moving and meaningful, so I wonder why I have such a hard time doing that more consistently. A friend of mine would tell me that it’s the universal battle between flesh and spirit. And I know she’s right. Here’s to more spirit for all of us!
- Our LENTEN PRACTICE for this week: Feast on the Word by reading Matthew 5:13-16 each day. This is a passage we’ve heard for years at New Covenant, “be the salt and the light.” Reading something this familiar makes it hard to receive a fresh hearing, an inspired revelation because we think we already know all there is to know about the passage. Instead, ruminate on the words, allowing the truths to move in and out of your heart and mind. Perhaps reading it in a paraphrase version like The Message will help you hear Jesus’ teaching in a new way. Pay attention to how the Spirit speaks as your heart opens to His voice.
- I’ve added “Be the Moon” to our Spotify Playlist. It comes right after Jami Smith’s “Salt and Light.” Both songs are so upbeat and life-giving! I hope they make you smile this week.
- This Lent series on the Sermon on the Mount is a collaboration with New Covenant UMC, so if you’d like to watch their sermons, you can check out their Facebook page each week at any time. Or you can catch the sermons live at either 8:30am or 11:00am on Sundays on their website.