Two of the metaphors Jesus used to describe His followers in the Sermon on the Mount are salt and light. “You are the salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13); and “You are the light of the world” (verse 14). He didn’t say, “Try to be salt and light”; He said, “You are salt and light.”
It’s hard to imagine more basic, common elements than salt and light. They’re both so simple, yet so essential. What would life be like without salt to season our meals and balance the minerals that maintain our physical and emotional health?
Where would we be without light? Under certain conditions we can see in the dark. But we certainly can’t appreciate colors, hues, and textures without light. And light is infinitely variable in all its manifestations: dawn, noontime, dusk, moonlight, cloudy, clear, etc.
Most of the time we notice salt and light only when there’s too much or too little of them. Too much salt spoils a meal; too little makes everything bland. Too much light is blinding; too little leaves us stumbling around in the dark.
There seems to be here an object lesson for those of us who follow Christ. We can come on so strong that we alienate those we’re trying to influence for the kingdom. We can be so passive and uninvolved that nobody knows about us or cares about our message.
Clearly, being salt and light is not something done mindlessly or carelessly. It takes all the cunning, careful, and mindful spiritual processes available to reach people where they are in all their complexities and varieties, and reflect Christ in settings that are just right: not too much, not too little.
Surely this is what we should pray for as we venture out each day to do our assorted responsibilities. Life, after all, is not scripted. We never know from hour to hour precisely what opportunities will come our way, or with what situations we’ll have to contend. We know only that to communicate the flavor of Christ’s love effectively we have to be properly seasoned with the Holy Spirit.
Anybody who thinks this isn’t important hasn’t been paying attention to the headlines and social media feeds of the past couple years. Society is by turns becoming more vocal, more segmented, more militant, and more violent. Where are we Christians? What is our influence, if any? Are we making things better, or worse?
Some like to observe that during Jesus’ ministry He spent all His time teaching and preaching about the kingdom. But He was also deeply invested in providing real, material benefits for those who followed Him He gave away free food or free healthcare. He was often found among society’s outcasts. In fact, one of His detractors’ chief complaints about Him was “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2).
What if the same was said about us?
As Christians and Christianity seem to become more insular and restrictive, it is well for us to remember that we are salt and light. Salt is good only when it gets out of the saltshaker. Light is important to the extent “that [others] may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).
Stephen Chavez is an assistant editor of Adventist Review.