“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.
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 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. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
If you’ve sat through enough sermons, or read through Matthew’s gospel account, I know you’re familiar with the idea of being salt and light. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus names his followers, “Salt of the earth…light of the world.” And the focus, at least in my experience, has been on the part about the light. The light isn’t hidden under a bowl, it’s exposed so that it is shiny and useful. Jesus says, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Yes, your good deeds are meant to be seen, but not for your own glory. They’re meant to point to the Father. Our Father prepares good deeds for us to accomplish that we may then shine the focus back to Him. Light works by shining on something or someone to be seen. Light is inherently expository—it reveals both goodness and wickedness in us and in the world. And the closer you get to it, the more you see your true character.
The whole bit about salt is a little less obvious. The salt of the earth is a pretty fascinating image. In our context, it refers to the least among us; those upon whose backs the labor of civilization has been laid. But in the ancient world, salt was precious and expensive. What did Jesus mean when he called his followers salt? I’ve heard people say that it means that we are to be distinctive, as salt is a distinct flavor. But when you’re cooking, salt isn’t really meant to make things taste salty. (Yes, I know In-N-Out French fries are salty and delicious….) Salt is used to bring out the other flavors. When my great-grandma made cookies, she doubled the ¼ teaspoon of salt in the recipe not to make the cookies rise better or to make them salty, but to bring out the butteryness of the butter, the chocolatelyness of the chocolate chips and the sugaryness of the sugar. You’re not actually meant to taste the salt. It’s very much like light. You don’t stare at the sun and say, “Oh, yes, that’s a good looking light.” Unless you want to go blind. The sun’s light exposes other objects so we can see them clearly. Likewise, salt exposes other flavors and allows us to experience them in their fullness. We aren’t baking salty cookies.
Jesus doesn’t require or desire uniformity in his kingdom. We see this clearly in creation in the different plants, animals, landscapes, and ecosystems that he made on this earth. But we also see it in Paul’s writings about the fruits of the spirit. God made you with unique talents; He made you intentionally. We each have an individual flavor, if you will, that is not meant to be overpowered by a yoke of uniformity but intended to be seen and drawn out. If being light exposes reality, being salt works in tandem to emphasize its full flavor.