‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (NRSV).
Here, Jesus, after pointing to the alternate world of the beatitudes, declares the ones who live like this to be something like salt and light.
Considering the difference salt makes to food and light to darkness, this is quite a compliment. Indeed it is more than this. It is a weighty responsibility. This unpromising gathering of humble and persecuted peacemakers add spice and hope to the world.
But woven within this encouraging message is a dire warning.
These characteristics are under threat. While salt does not actually lose its taste, it easily loses its purity. And contaminated salt is ‘useless’. Similarly, hidden light is no light at all.
A burning flame under a basket helps no one see. Impure salt adds no flavour.
It is only as we live the beatitudes that we, as salt and light, can shine and flavour.
Of course, this is not a new idea. Jesus moves immediately to insist that this is expected. It is the very fulfillment of the law, the accomplishment of all God has dreamed. It would seem that Jesus, in presenting the beatitudes and declaring a similarity between those who live this way and the contribution of salt and light, expects this to bolster, not pull down, any resolve to teach and do the law. He can still say of the law and prophets: ‘…whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.’
Jesus is not calling for a lowering of the law. He is inspiring an elevating of the vision God has given.
Jesus’ final words hope for more, not less: ‘For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’