Salt, Light & Law
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.
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus’ discussion of persecution for righteousness and His name (Matthew 5:10-12) leads directly to further teachings about salt, light and law. The section transitions with Jesus’ pronouncement in verse 20: “…unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Salt and light influence their surroundings by enhancing and illuminating respectively. The question is, what do they enhance and illuminate? My theory is that Jesus’ followers enhance the image of God that is stamped upon each and every human being.
By their very lives, God’s presence within those who exhibit the characteristics of the beatitudes calls forth the best in others, urging the world to a higher standard and a deeper resonance with the will of God. How do we know? Because immediately afterwards, Jesus launches into an analysis of the importance of the Law and its application.
When confronted by the demands of the Law each person has at least two choices. First, they can work to minimize it’s reach into their hearts and make it superficial and, consequently, easy to obey. The other choice is to contemplate the deeper application of the law to the point that it becomes impossible to keep perfectly. Jesus did not only fulfill the Law superficially but He also met its demands that reach to the very core of one’s heart. It is this penetrating level to which He calls His followers in contrast to those whose so-called ‘righteousness’ is superficial, judgmental and self-seeking.
RIGHTEOUSNESS THAT PIERCES HEARTS
To illustrate, Jesus immediately launches into the true meaning of the sixth command to ‘not murder’ (Exodus 20:13). God was not just legislating about the taking the physical life of another bearer of God’s image; although, legal consideration was part of its purpose (cf., Genesis 9:6; Numbers 35:6-34).
There are other ways in which we murder the image of God in other people. With the three examples cited by Jesus it is obvious that when we discount the value of another person by harboring anger against them, devaluing their worth or writing them off we have violated the spirit and intent of the command, “You shall not murder.”
These reactions to personal offenses are not the ways of those who are broken, who mourn over their sin, who meekly submit to God’s will, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who extend mercy to others, who are pure in heart and wo are devoted to making peace. What naturally arises from this stark contrast is the principle to which Christ is calling His followers: forgive from your heart as Jesus also commands (Matthew 18:35).
For further discussion about how to forgive others CLICK HERE where we turn to the disciples’ question to Jesus about who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven in Matthew 18. This entire chapter gives specific instruction about how Christ’s followers deal with conflict: forgiveness.