Salt, Light, and the City.
Updated: Jul 15
Jesus’ answer to the human predicament, unlike any other, is intrinsically personal.
Not that Jesus' claims are readily accepted by everyone. However, don't we all agree that this world is not going to become a better place on its own? Policies, processes, and programs combined are not potent enough to make this once-good-now-gone-bad-world beautiful again, is it? It does not take a genius to appreciate that true help is always anchored in someone, not something. We are at the heart of transformation — persons!
This should compel us (irrespective of our position on who Jesus is) to reconsider Jesus' invitation. Through his death on the Cross and his resurrection from the dead, Jesus makes it plain that his provision for our predicament is contingent entirely on him alone.
On one occasion, looking at the hopelessness and helplessness people were trapped in, Jesus called:
Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matt 11:28-30)
What are we to make of his invitation?
The Bible describes God — the uncreated, self-existent, eternal, Spirit — as love, light, and holy. And God created humanity good and free. Goodness and freedom inseparably intertwined is at the heart of what makes humans, human, and places humanity at the apex of all things created. This is why humans can make better sense of the universe, manage it better, even damage it more than any other conscious, created being. If the creator's intent was to create humanity good and free, then, it stands to reason that his redemption likewise is to restore humanity — good and free.
I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (Jn 10:10)
The incarnation, the cross, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ was not to snatch people out of their misery here on earth and transplant them into heaven where they will enjoy eternal bliss. The Word became flesh and lived in our midst (John 1:14) so that his rule will restore both goodness and freedom, in love.
Jesus came to seek and save the lost on his own accord and at great cost to himself. His death and resurrection did not alter what it meant to be human, it only made it possible for all.
Given that Jesus' provision for our problems is intrinsically personal, it should come as no surprise that his mandate to his disciples, likewise, is inexorably personal.
In this loveless world where goodness and freedom are both sacrificed at the altar of autonomy and self-interest, humanity would do well to come to Jesus to learn from Jesus. Students of Jesus learn to live the good and free life by surrendering to his love. It should not surprise us then, that the call to be taught to live life the Jesus way is at the heart of his mandate as well.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matt 28:19–20)
Students of Jesus are called to teach others as they have been taught.
This raises a number of questions. All of which in one way or another will require us to carefully consider living our lives in the light of what Jesus taught, and as his disciples, how we might teach others to learn from Jesus — not from (but possibly through) our traditions or trending methods.
It also involves a disposition of being willing to do as instructed, in everything.
Unless as disciples of Jesus we remain unflinching in our resolve to learn from Jesus, our predicament will remain. We will not find rest for our souls. Which will change when we come to Jesus, learn from Jesus, and live
As we grow in our willingness to take his yoke upon ourselves and learn from him, we, as Jesus said, will be salt, light, and city on the hill, fulfilling his mandate, his way.
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, 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 who is in heaven. (Matt 5:13-16)
Metaphors are a brilliant way to stir the imagination towards concrete action, and Jesus used three to describe his Jewish disciples — the salt of the earth, the light of the world, and a city set on a hill. He does so in the context of teaching them about life in his kingdom. This, however, is not to suggest that these metaphors have no bearing on his non-Jewish disciples. They do.
God is a missionary. He loves the world, and is personally engaged in restoring the world. His redemption plan is to lavish love on everyone, everywhere, for their good and his glory. He called Abraham to follow him so that through him God would bless the nations (Genesis 12). As God’s chosen people, Israel was ‘a light for the nations, that [his] salvation may reach to the end of the earth (Isa. 49:6. cf: Isa 42:6; 52:10; 60:3). It is with this understanding that Jesus points to himself as the light of the world and charges his disciples to be likewise (John 8:12; Acts 13:47; 26:23).
Clearly, Jesus intends for all his disciples, everywhere, to be his visible, intentional, and tangible, presence in the midst of a people who hardly know him.
Consider how the metaphors Jesus uses describe us, his disciples, animates his mandate for us. Like salt, we are to be immersed in the world, not isolated from it. Indifference is one way to be isolated, but proximity is not license for pollution, and Jesus warns against loss of substance. Salt is required to remain salty!
As salt is an invitation to immersion without corruption, light is a call to illumine the world, not be shrouded by its darkness. While salt does what it does best in close proximity, light does what it does from a distance — without detachment. Illumination without compromise.
Disciples of Jesus are meant to offer the world more than information about Jesus. They are called to demonstrate that living life his way is truly 'the good life’. And, like a city on the hill to be invitational, to hold out the promise of a better life.
Man-made cities are invitational, and it is no secret that they have a dark underside of discrimination, abuse, and prosperity at the expense of the other. The City of God on the other hand offers life to the full for all.
Immersion without corruption, illumination without compromise, and invitation without coercion is a helpful way to picture how Jesus’ mandate of making disciples might look like if his teaching took to the streets on your feet and mine.
As Jesus’ disciples, we are called to walk in the light (as ones who are taught by Jesus), as he is the light of the world (Jn 8:12; 1 Jn 1:6-7). We are exhorted to let our lives light the path for God to evidence himself to the world through us. That, according to the Scriptures, is what God does in us as we ready ourselves to be taught by grace. God takes our darkened, futile and ignorant mind, and by his Holy Spirit makes it pliable to being renewed in knowledge, righteousness and holiness. And in us, evidence his majesty and goodness to a watching and on-the-verge-of-perishing world. Is it any wonder that the apostle Paul declared:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Tit 2:11-14)
Love is not passive, nor is it self-serving. God first loved us, and his love is always outward and other-ward, so be salt, be light, and let your light shine before people so that they will ‘see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matt 5:16). This is an invitation for disciples of Jesus in every culture to, ’Walk in wisdom towards outsiders, making the best use of the time’ (Col 4:5), to ‘Walk as children of light (Eph. 5:8)
Constrained by love. Bring goodness and freedom back together. Make this world beautiful again. Be Salt, Light, and City.