“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. (Matthew 5:13-16 NIV)
The followers are the visible community of faith; their discipleship is a visible act which separates them from the world—or it is not discipleship. And discipleship is as visible as light in the night, as a mountain in the flatland. – The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
I agree with Bonhoeffer that Jesus’ words above are addressed to His disciples. It is very likely that the number is more than 12, but what must be true about these people is that they have accepted Jesus’ call. These are people who are increasingly characterized by the words of the beatitudes. Jesus tells these people that they are salt and light. They are, not they will be.
In the case of salt, this is also not a matter of producing something, but of being something. Salt and light are different. They are both essential to life, but they function differently. Salt is only useful when it comes in contact with something that needs to be disinfected, purified, or flavored. We have created many antiseptics that are less painful than salt, but in Jesus day salt might have been the agent of choice. Anyone who has put salt on a cut knows that it hurts. This is grace and truth in action. Truth often hurts, but if we love a person and want them to get well (grace), then truth is what needs to be applied. We subscribe to World magazine and they describe themselves as salt, not sugar. I think they have captured our role as disciples of Christ. We aren’t called to bring the pleasure of sweetness, but the healing of salt.
Jesus has already described the persecution that lies ahead for His disciples. Persecution brings with it the temptation to hide. There are many ways to hide. In the early church gatherings were held in the catacombs. We don’t hide in caves today. Our tendency is to hide in plain sight. We hide by using camouflage. Rather than being a distinctive community that looks very different from the world around us, we often make significant effort to look just like everyone else. It is interesting to me that our Jewish neighbors maintain distinctive eating habits even though they do not believe in God. Our distinctives are not to be about dietary laws, but the community of Christ should look and act different from the world around it. We should be visibly practicing the “one anothers” within our congregations and with fellow believers in our community.
Finally, we should be doing good works. Jesus doesn’t leave us to wonder what these are.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ (Matthew 25:34-36 NIV)
What I notice in each of these things is that contact with the person in need is required. We don’t think that way today. We just send money in most cases. This is where salt and light come together. Salt requires contact to be effective and the good that results will be visible and bring glory to God.