April 4, 2016
13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
Today’s passage has to be the most cliched text in all of the Bible. (It’s right up there with, “The Lord helps those who help themselves,” which isn’t actually in the Bible—but that’s another story). And perhaps because these metaphorical images of salt and light have become so familiar, we (and I can definitely say I) have missed the point of the passage and lost its intended meaning.
In other words, this text is not about becoming salt and light. It’s not about being a “salt of the earth” kind of person or singing “this little light of mine I’m gonna let it shine.” O.K., it is, but in a bigger sense there’s a bigger point here. So if it’s not primarily about being more salty and brighter what is it about? Thanks for asking. Jesus big point here is this: EITHER BE A REAL FOLLOWER OF MINE OR DON’T FOLLOW AT ALL. Jesus is pointing out an absurdity. Unsalty salt is as ridiculous as unshining light. It’s like he’s saying, “If you are following me but not really following me you are as absurd as unsalty salt or unshining light.” At the risk of being overly harsh, let me take it a step further. Jesus is effectively saying that nominal Christians are worthless—”no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”
All this time I’ve read this text to mean be more salty and be a shining light, as though salt has to do something to be salty and light has to do something to shine. Salt is salty by nature. Light shines by nature. Jesus is talking about the nature or character or authenticity of anyone who would claim to be his disciple. When we consider these statements in their context with the beatitudes, it makes perfect sense. Remember, the beatitudes aren’t a list of activities but a character profile for who one is becoming. Sure they involve activity (deeds) and behavior, but these metaphors he speaks of cut to the very core of one’s identity. Salt is salt and light is light. Salt cannot become unsalty and still be salt. Light cannot become un-shining and still be light. A disciple of Jesus cannot be an un-follower and still be a disciple. Can we just say it? Nominal Christians aren’t Christians.
We have lived through an age where most people (at least the average American) pretty much considered themselves a Christian because they “believed” in God or went to church. Those days are over. Nominal Christian just may be the ultimate oxymoron. Jesus has no tolerance for that anymore. He never really did.
1. How would you describe the difference between a real Christian and a nominal Christian?
2. How do you relate to this way of thinking through today’s text? i.e. the absurdity of unsalty salt and unshining light.
3. Think through the connections between the beatitudes and salt and light. One’s salty-ness and shiny-ness is a direct expression of their embodiment of the beatitudes. Right? What implications does that have for you today?
J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. firstname.lastname@example.org.