To enter the world of Jesus’ words, it would be helpful to suspend our awareness of our modern life -- with its comforts -- and take ourselves back in time. back to the time of Jesus and first century Palestine. Back in time before the light bulb – before electricity -- and central heating. Back in time before mass-produced candles -- and lanterns. Back in time when sunlight was supreme and set the boundaries of the day. Back to the time when people used oil made from animal fat or olives for their lamps. Back when the main household tasks was keeping the fire going in the hearth and -- keeping the oil lamps lit and -- gathering the needed firewood. Back to a time when having a fire -- having light -- brought about the ability to eat better, to stay warm, to stay up later at night, to see. Back to a time when light made the difference between that thin line of survival and really beginning to live. Back to a time when light made life possible. Light is after all, the first act of God’s act of creation.
Before there were humans there was light. Hebrew scholars who study Hebrew words note that the Hebrew word for light, with the addition of one more letter, makes the word man. Add another letter and you get the word woman. And together these letters -- if reorganized -- form the Hebrew word for God. To our mind such trivia might not mean very much. To the Hebrew mind however, the letters of the Hebrew alphabet are the building blocks of mystery. And such mysteries point to the fact that the very being of God, human life, and light are all connected.
To enter the world of Jesus’ words we need to step back. To first century Palestine, no one heard of high blood pressure, much less connecting salt with illness. Step back into a time when salt wasn’t a public health enemy. When salt wasn’t widely available in all processed foods; when salt wasn’t so commonplace.
There was once a time when salt was not so easy to come by. When it was extremely valuable. There was a time when salt was a form of currency. Roman soldiers were at one point paid in salt. That’s where the phrase “worth his/her salt” comes from. Our word, salary, comes from the Latin word, salarium, which means “of salt.” In a time before antibiotics, salt was used for cleansing and healing. In a time without refrigeration salt was a powerful preservative. In a time of limited food offerings and seasonings, salt added flavor and needed trace minerals.
Salt was thrown in corners and carried in pockets to ward off evil and danger. In Jewish religious life salt easily became a symbol of the covenant and a pure offering. Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers all contain passages about the use of salt to purify the offerings and symbolize the enduring quality of God’s covenant with the people
We need to step back in order to see this, because nowadays light and salt are cheap and commonplace. And perhaps in some ways we take our lives and faith for granted too. It is easy to forget our value and purpose. Do we treasure human life and seek the glory of the Spirit God has created within us? Perhaps…. we forget our preciousness because of the abundance of cheap light, cheap salt, cheap faith.
Salt and light are metaphors for how God would choose to see us and use us. So, when we can see ourselves as salt and as light our understanding of our passage and all the sacrifices of our Christian life get seen in a new way. The disciplines of Christian life – fasting, as Isaiah describes to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Acts of prayer, charity, acts of service – are acts of light and salt for our world. Jesus reminds us: 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. These acts of Christian love are there to help us see the value of our lives and the power of our contributions to the world. Jesus calls us to not take our life for granted or use it for wrong purposes, because we are meant for so much more. You and I and that neighbor to whom we gave a good example; we are meant for Godly purposes. We are meant to be salt to the earth. We are meant to be a light to the world.
Robert Fulghum, a minister and author, was attending a seminar one day in Greece. On the last day of the conference, Fulghum lasked him what was the meaning of life. Everyone in attendance laughed and stirred to leave. However, the leader held up his hand to ask for silence and then responded "I will answer your question."
He took his wallet out of his pocket and removed a small round mirror about the size of a quarter. Then he shared: "When I was a small child during World War II, we were very poor. we lived in a remote village. One day on the road, I found the broken pieces of a mirror. A German motorcycle had been wrecked in that place. I tried to find all the pieces and put them together, but it was not possible. So, I kept the largest piece. This one. And by scratching it on a stone, I made it round. I began to play with it as a toy. I was fascinated by the fact that with this mirror, I could reflect light into dark places where the sun could never shine. It became a game for me to get light into the most inaccessible places that I could find.
I kept the little mirror. As I grew up, I would take it out at idle moments and continue the game. As I became a man, I grew to understand that this was not just a child's game. It was a metaphor of what I could do with my life. Light - be it truth or understanding or knowledge - is there. And it will only shine in many dark places if I reflect it. I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless -- with what I have -- I can reflect light into the dark places of this world - into the dark places of human hearts - and change some things in some people. Perhaps others seeing it happen will do likewise. This is what I am about. This is the meaning of my life."
That is the meaning of our lives. We are that mirror. We are that light. You can reflect light into the dark places of the world. Christ’s light.
Don’t hide your light, don’t dilute your salt. Remember you are encoded like those Hebrew letters with the very light and life of God. Remember: you are salt.You are light.
So shine, shine, for the world to see. Amen.