~ scroll down for video ~
Yr A ~ Epiphany 4 ~ Matthew 5:13-20
So that. These are two very powerful little words.
So that. It’s kind of too bad that they’re such small words because if we’re not careful it’s pretty easy to breeze right over them. I’m about to argue that these two little words are among the most important and crucial for understanding Jesus’ teaching.
Jesus is a master at painting word pictures and using parables to come at his meaning sideways because if he came straight on he’d probably ruffle too many feathers with how audacious his message was. Today’s reading isn’t a parable, but it does paint some amazing pictures that are powerful enough to be the whole message but then he zaps us with a “so that” that shows us what his real meaning is.
When you say “so that” you’re saying that everything you’ve said previously is the build-up, the groundwork, the foundational concepts that you’re working with. I’m not saying that everything before the “so that” doesn’t matter – in fact, I’m saying the opposite. It matters greatly, because you need a strong theological foundation in order to launch your “so that.” So let’s start with that foundation.
First, we need to set the context. Remember that this is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount teaching. It’s the first real teaching he did in the gospel of Matthew, and the indications in the text are that at this point he’s still talking to his newly formed inner circle of freshly called disciples.
The Sermon on the Mount began with the Beatitudes which were all about describing Christian values, or more specifically kingdom values – values which stand in stark contrast to the usual conventional wisdom of the world’s values. If you remember our discussion of that passage two weeks ago we underlined how important utter surrender to God is for understanding the kingdom Jesus speaks of and invites us to be immersed in. Kingdom values are about living surrendered, sensitively, using our power gently, yearning for God, being compassionate, having pure intentions, being diplomatic, staying on the path even when facing obstacles.
So Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount painting the picture of this kingdom and telling his followers that they don’t have to do a single thing to earn it – that they are already ready to simply open their hand and receive it as they embody those values beginning with surrender to God’s Presence. And immediately upon telling us that ours is the kingdom of heaven he begins to say how kingdom people should act.
Here’s the kingdom – it’s all yours – now here’s how to live it out.
The Beatitudes explain our inward orientation – this passage explains our outward actions. Our actions flow from our orientation toward God. We love because we are loved.
~ text continues below ~
Jesus teaches that because the kingdom of heaven is yours you are the salt of the earth! And then he warns us about the dangers of not being salty. Jesus says that because the kingdom of heaven is yours you are the light of the world. And then he warns us about the dangers of hiding our light. Salt is meant to be salty – lights are meant to shine. That’s us.
He says that a city on a hill cannot be hidden. He means us. If you’re immersed in the kingdom of heaven, because you’ve surrendered and strive to embrace kingdom values, then you are salty and lit up and stand out like a city built on a hill in full view of the world. If you’re salty and lit up people are going to notice. If Jesus didn’t want people to notice us he’d have told us to be cities hidden strategically away. But not us – we’re supposed to be visible, living our faith out loud, being noticed.
Now, that flies in the face of our usual self-understanding that as people of faith we’re supposed to be meek, and mild, and self-deprecating, and quiet, and humble. I submit to you that our usual self-understanding is flawed. You can be salty and shiny without being a jerk about it, but you can’t be salty and shiny hidden away and not causing any fuss. read on