“Blessed Are Ye” #BCCSundaySchool2019 (2 of 3)

Part Two: Salt and Light, huh. Well let me tell you….


Ye are the salt of the earth, huh? But let me tell you: if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world, huh? Well let me tell you: A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. (Matthew 5:13-14)

This is my translation of the text in Matthew 5: 13-14. After each opening declarative sentence (“You are the. . .”), I add a huh? and a let me tell you. . . . This translation is not based on knowing Greek or being a great theologian; I don’t, and I’m not. But this is how I represent what I am pretty sure Jesus was trying to convey when he told his listeners that they were the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

You see, he wasn’t really telling them anything. They already thought that they were the salt of the earth and the light of the world, or, at least, they appeared to see being “the chosen people” in terms that could be represented by these metaphors that have now become set-phrases in English. They thought that they were, well, chosen. And special.

So Jesus wasn’t informing them of their specialness. He was asking them what they were going to do with it. He was saying something like, “so, you think you are the salt of the earth, huh? Well, let me tell you, salt isn’t any good if you don’t salt stuff. If you just sit in your own room being salty, then you aren’t doing anybody any good. So go salt stuff.” The same, basically, for light.

The two metaphors that Jesus chose have one crucial thing in common: they are only good when they mix with other things. Salt has to salt things. Light has to light things. Just being salt and light doesn’t do anybody any good. People are like that too.

We can ask these same questions about almost everything that constitutes a divine gift, a positive character trait, a material advantage, or a supposedly correct belief. Just watch:

  • You belong to “the True Church, huh? Well let me tell you. . . .
  • You don’t drink coffee, tea, or alcohol, and you don’t smoke, huh? Well let me tell you. . . .
  • You don’t go to the store on Sunday, huh? Well let me tell you. . . .
  • You live in a free country, huh? Well let me tell you. . . .
  • You have your Ph.D. in smart stuff, huh? Well let me tell you. . . .
  • You love your family, huh? Well let me tell you. . . .
  • You can bench press a Volkswagen, huh? Well let me tell you. . . .
  • You’ve got eleventy million Twitter followers huh? Well let me tell you. . . .
  • You can trace all of your family lines back to the Norman Conquest, huh? Well let me tell you. . . .
  • You have a great job and a nice car, huh? Well let me tell you. . .

These are all the sorts of things that we tell ourselves when we are trying to decide whether or not we matter. They are the ways that we represent ourselves to ourselves, and, often, to anyone else who will listen. But the answer is (if Jesus is to be believed), Yes, you matter. But everybody else matters too. And until you matter to them, then your mattering doesn’t matter.

When dealing with people suffering from the understanding that they are a “Chosen People”–be they Second Temple Jews or 21st Century Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saintsians–the message is even clearer: the people that you matter to can’t be in your small group of people who think that they matter. You have to engage with “the world.” You can’t just be the Salt of Jerusalem or the Light of the Cultural Hall. You have to find ways to make the whole world better.

It is not just a coincidence that, just after saying these challenging things, Jesus defends his dedication to the Law and the Prophets:

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. (Matthew 5: 17-18)

Jesus needs to offer this defense because everything that he has been saying up to this point would have been read as a serious challenge to the law and the prophets as they were understood by many of his listeners, who had isolated themselves into Jewish enclaves throughout the Roman Empire and tried, as far as possible, to keep themselves away from worldly things.

One of the most important themes of the New Testament is that this is not how God wants chosen people to behave. “Chosen” does not mean “better” or “more beloved.” It means “more accountable.” It’s hard work to be a Chosen person. You have to work harder than anyone else, and you don’t get any extra blessings because the whole point is to make sure that the whole world ends up just as Chosen as you. Jesus addresses this directly in the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. (Matthew 20:1-16)

These few verses in the Sermon on the Mount, I would argue, should be read as the first of Jesus’s “Kingdom Parables”–or those stories and metaphors that the Savior uses to describe the Kingdom of God. And he will use similar metaphors in the more explicit parables of the Kingdom. His understanding of salt in the sermon, for example, is very close to the way he uses leaven in the parable in Matthew 13:33. And the spiritual need for light is central to the whole bit about the virgins and the lamps in Matthew 25:1-13.

Nothing in the New Testament is more important than communicating a vision of the Kingdom of God. And the Sermon on the Mount is where this vision begins. The Kingdom is not something that happens in another life; it has to be built in this life, on this earth, by people who are willing to consecrate, or to make sacred, their gifts and their labor. And that means that all of the salt has to salt stuff, all of the light has to light stuff, and all of those who have gotten have got to get going.

Comments

  1. Kevin Barney says:

    Great stuff, thanks.

  2. Love it.

  3. This is good–and it works well with Luke 4, which my ward just talked about in Sunday School yesterday.

    Jesus tells the people of Nazareth that Elijah could’ve been sent to a widow in Israel, but instead was sent to a widow who was not a Jew; and Eliseus could’ve healed one of the many lepers in Israel but instead healed a man who was not a Jew. There are a lot of ways to read this, but my take away was Jesus was telling them “you’re not any more special than other people.” They got so upset at this that they tried to kill him.

    The next step, of course, is to apply Luke 4 to ourselves…

  4. imreadyformycloseupmrdemille says:

    I was pondering this today, as I worried over how “blessed are you when men shall revile and persecute you…. for my sake,” and how this can kind of give people permission to be self righteous pig heads and dismiss criticism. I like this as counterpoint. I like how salt and light don’t actually change the things they salt and light (into something else) they just bring out the best in them, Make them more their actualized selves. I think too often we think our specialness is only working as we make other people be just like ourselves. But, then you just have salt, which is worthless without something to add it to.

  5. “I like how salt and light don’t actually change the things they salt and light (into something else) they just bring out the best in them, Make them more their actualized selves. I think too often we think our specialness is only working as we make other people be just like ourselves. But, then you just have salt, which is worthless without something to add it to.”

    Closeup,

    This is a wonderful way to put something that I was groping towards but didn’t quite manage to say. Thank you for adding your seasoning to my thoughts and throwing some needed light on their implications for how we treat other people.

  6. Great post; one gripe. Can we be done with “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saintsians”? It’s worn out, and it was only mildly clever to begin with. Either set aside President Nelson’s counsel and go with “Mormon” or go with “Latter-day Saints”.

  7. That started to sound like a Shania Twain song there.

    Good stuff, Mike.

  8. Jared Livesey says:

    To remember the setting, the Lord saw the crowds, and sat down upon a mountain. His disciples, those who followed him seeking to learn from him, came to him. He opened his mouth and spoke the Beatitudes to them before the multitude. He then said this.

    Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.

    Salt represents the covenant people of the Lord. Those who heard him speak these words, and those who read them in the scriptures today, are being offered the opportunity to become the covenant people of the Lord. By baptism we publicly signal to men and heaven that we have taken upon us this covenant – to keep the law and commandments the Lord delivered in the Sermon. When we partake of the Sacrament, we again witness to God, the Father, that we are willing – the word means “wanting, desiring” – to keep Jesus’s commandments, so that we may always have his spirit to be with us. Those who actually do keep his commandments will, in this life, see both Jesus and the Father (John 14:23; D&C 130:3), and shall obtain eternal life (John 17:3).

    All covenants come with a penalty clause, a curse that is executed if they are broken, and the covenant curse of the Sermon is to be cast out and to be trodden under foot of men. This curse was executed literally at least twice that we know of – first against the Jews who heard him speak these words, which happened when Rome overthrew Jerusalem, and secondly, against the Nephites, who also heard it from Jesus. Jesus said in the Book of Mormon that the Gentiles – those nations which are not Israel, including us – who hear the Sermon and will not do what he says to do shall also be trodden under foot of men (3 Nephi 16:15). For this to happen, all the Gentiles will have heard or read the Sermon (Matthew 24:14; Mosiah 3:20-21; Mosiah 15:28).

    Israel is defined by the Lord as all those who love him and keep all his commandments (D&C 29:12). Neither tribal assignment in patriarchal blessings, nor literal lineal descent (Matthew 3:9), are protection to those who know and will not do what the Lord commands in the Sermon (Mosiah 15:26-27).

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