Today’s text is from Matthew 5:12-16:
Be full of joy and be glad, because you have a great reward in heaven. In the same way, people harassed the prophets who came before [y’all]. [Y’all] 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. [Y’all] 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. (CEB [with my edits])
I’ve heard plenty of salt-and-light sermons calling Christians to do good things. But often it is preached as though this section is divorced from the preceding sentence:
In the same way, people harassed the prophets who came before [y’all].
These are not separate ideas, though they are often separated in your printed Bible by verse numbers and section headings.
Jesus is speaking to a community of prophets.
See, it depends how you read this phrase. Most people read with a comma, like this: “…the prophets, who were the ones who came before y’all.” I read it without the comma, i.e. “…the prophets who came before y’all prophets.”
Jesus just spent his prologue telling us that the people who we think are losers are really winners (“happy are the poor in spirit”). It takes a prophet’s vision to see this reality. Jesus is speaking to a community he expects to carry on this prophetic tradition. That is why this community will be a “light on a lamp stand,” letting people see what has been hidden by darkness.
Too often, preachers have focused on simply the last phrase in this section: letting others see your good deeds and giving glory to God in heaven. We have separated good works from the prophetic vision, charity from social justice, and works of mercy from evangelism. The call to be salt and light has a particular context: a prophetic community who is willing to be persecuted for Jesus’ and righteousness’ sake.
We are a prophetic community. That is why we are salt and light.
Twice a week (usually Tuesday and Thursday) I do a short reflection on a Bible verse from a devotional and social justice perspective. You can sign up to get a prompt via SMS here:
Text Of The Day
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