“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? It’s good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.
“Don’t even begin to think that I have come to do away with the Law and the Prophets. I haven’t come to do away with them but to fulfill them. I say to you very seriously that as long as heaven and earth exist, neither the smallest letter nor even the smallest stroke of a pen will be erased from the Law until everything there becomes a reality. Therefore, whoever ignores one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do the same will be called the lowest in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever keeps these commands and teaches people to keep them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. I say to you that unless your righteousness is greater than the righteousness of the legal experts and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
So often, Christian people forget that the sayings of Jesus have a contemporary context. That is, what he said and did were directly tied to the Israel of his day. Granting that there are applications for others as well, the original audience was first-century Jews and all that they were going through.
The passage before us is exactly that point. Jesus uses the personal pronoun “you” about nine times in the passage above. The “you” to whom Jesus addressed was his current listeners (specifically) and Israel (generally). It’s Israel, after all, through whom Yahweh would rescue creation. They were the ones called to be G-d’s people — the salt of the earth.
Salt, as we know, was used as a preserving agent — to keep things from going bad (it’s still used for that). But, as Jesus pointed out, what happens when the salt itself becomes spoiled? That is, with Israel acting like everyone else — political and religious infighting, violent revolt, etc. — how was Yahweh suppose to use them to rescue the world when they needed rescue?
Likewise, Israel was to be the light of the world (see Isaiah 42.6; 49.6). But, they became part of the darkness. Jerusalem was the city set upon the hill (several, actually) that was to be G_d’s beacon — shining forth G_d’s Light — to the world. But the light was going out. That’s what Jesus is warning Israel about above. He’s telling them that they still have time. Even though Jesus was (somehow) ushering in G_d’s Realm “on earth as in heaven,” there was still time to “change their hearts and minds.”
But if they thought that the arrival of G_d’s Realm would be the end of the Law of Moses, they were sadly mistaken. Jesus wasn’t there to put an end to the Law of Moses, he was there to fill it to it’s fullest “until everything there becomes a reality.” That’s the key that a lot of people miss. Jesus wasn’t saying that the Law of Moses would continue on through G_d’s Realm. He was saying the he was the fulfillment, the goal, to which the whole story of Israel was heading (Romans 10.4).
Furthermore, a new covenant brings with it a new laws. And the Law of G_d’s Realm is the Law of Love (Galatians 5; Hebrews 8). As Jesus said elsewhere, loving G_d with everything we have and loving our neighbors as ourselves is the embodiment of the Law (Matthew 22.34.40; cf. Matthew 5.43ff).
So how does Jesus fulfill the Law? By being the embodiment of Love. Of being Love Personified. If we want to know what a life of Love looks like, we should look to Jesus. He shows us how to live that life in very practical ways. He shows us what it looks like to love people whom society has rejected. He shows us how to treat “the least of these.” He shows us how to stand up to power.
Therefore, let’s look to Jesus, my friends, and emulate his life in our actions and words.
In the Love of the One in Three,
Br. Jack+, LC