26 March 2021

Being Salt and Light

In Matthew 5, Jesus begins his sermon on the mount by blessing the people who are gathered there. They are his disciples, but they are also the "poor in spirit," "those who morn," "the meek;" they are people who are vulnerable, weak, and lacking in power and ability. How are any of these people blessed? It certainly isn't by society because Jesus tells them that they are even blessed when they are persecuted on account of him. The blessing comes in verse 12, where Jesus tells them that God's prophets, "who came before you," were also persecuted in this way (Matthew 5:1-12).

Jesus is not calling simple disciples to himself, he is calling God's prophets. These aren't teachers of the law, they aren't rich or powerful, they are common people. Most of them probably can't even read or write. But they aren't being called to be Temple priests or teachers of the law, they are being called to walk and talk with God (5:11-12).

Jesus compares them to salt, a city on a hill, and a lamp on a stand. In each of these examples, their value and ability is inherent in being what they are. Salt can be nothing but salty, a city on a hill cannot be hidden, and a lamp must bring light to its surroundings. This is what it is to be called by God, to walk and talk with one's Creator. It is the fulfillment of one's most basic purpose.

Of course, there is a choice to be who you were created to be. As Jesus points out, salt can be thrown out, a city can be walled off or "hidden," and a lamp can be placed under a bowl so its light cannot be seen (5:13-16).

The natural consequence of illiterate people walking and talking with their Creator directly and in the Spirit is that they will likely neglect to read the Law and the Prophets. Jesus tells them this, that his purpose is not to abolish the Law and Prophets, but to fulfill their purpose (5:17-20).

In Genesis 2, we see the God establish the purpose of humanity. God creates a garden, not a wilderness but a garden, implying that it needs care to be maintained. In the garden, God places every plant and animal, both fruit trees and livestock, everything needed to maintain human life. He then places Adam, whose name means "humanity," within the garden. This is God's ideal creation, a place where he and humanity walk and talk together.

In Genesis 4, God attempts to reconcile this relationship with Cain and Abel. He talks with them and guides them, but Cain grew jealous of his brother Abel and murdered him. God's response is not punishment, but protection. God marks Cain so that anyone who meets him will know he is under God's protection. God continues to attempt to reconcile Cain even after his brutal act of murder.

Noah, Abraham, and Moses all walk and talk with God. In Exodus 19, God attempts to reconcile all of Israel to himself, to establish "a nation of priests," in which all of Israel walks and talks with God (19:3-6). However, when God reveals himself to all the people of Israel, they cannot bear his presence and they cry out to Moses to intercede for them because they cannot bear to be in God's direct presence (20:18-19).

This is the intention Jesus is fulfilling. The Holy Spirit, which dwells in every Christian, is the fulfillment of all the law and the prophets. By it, there are no priests or prophets or holy men, but every person walks and talks with God. That is the invitation Jesus gives, and it is only the start of his sermon.

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