13"You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
14"You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
17"Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
On the first Sunday of Advent Matthew's lectionary year started again. Matthew is one of the three synoptic gospels that view Jesus in a somewhat similar manner. Matthew never lets up on justice and righteousness; Matthew particularly presents Jesus as the new liberator Moses, the new king David.
So far in Matthew: the first sentence announces a new genesis/new creation; genealogy that includes non-Jewish foreigners; Jesus' birth; visit of magi from the East; Holy Family's flight into Egypt where they become refugees from injustice and danger; Jesus' baptism in the Jordan River by his cousin John the Baptist; 40 days of wilderness desert solitude and temptations; Jesus calls disciples Peter, Andres, James, and John.
Last Sunday was February 2nd, so we celebrated Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. Churches that didn't observe Presentation/Candlemas heard the familiar blessed are beatitudes that open Jesus' Sermon on the Mount as the New Moses.
We're still in the Ordinary Time season of Epiphany that emphasizes Jesus as light of the world, redeemer for all creation everywhere. Next Sunday will be the last Sunday after Epiphany, then it will be Transfiguration, followed by Lent's season opener Ash Wednesday. Today is about us as light of the world – people who radiate like a city on a hill! – and about us as salt of the earth.
Maybe you're heard Kari Jobe's song, We Are
Every secret, every shame
Every fear, every pain
Lives inside the dark
But that's not who we are
We are children of the day
We are the light of the world
We are the city on the hill
We are the light of the world
We gotta let the light shine
Let the light shine
Let the light shine.
By the way, I no longer link to videos because YouTube content changes so rapidly. You easily can find some good performances of "We Are."
This week continues Jesus' sermon on the mount he began by proclaiming attributes or characteristics of people who follow him. These qualities are gifts of grace rather than "be-attitudes" as some suggest, yet having them makes demands for our response—what we do because of who we are. In that sense, the beatitudes are how we are to be, how God calls and enables us to live. Unlike Luke, who has Jesus giving a similar talk on a plain or level place, as part of his "Jesus the new Moses" Matthew parallels Moses receiving the Ten Words of the Sinai Covenant by having Jesus preach on a hill. In real life, Jesus probably gave this or a very similar talk many times so it reached different audiences that could have been his twelve main followers, a mixed group of a few hundred women, men, and young people, a spontaneous gathering of ten or so curious people... flash mob, anyone? As we've discussed, we're welcome to speculate on anything scripture doesn't clearly state, and we sometimes need to be imaginative to contextualize scripture for our own lives.
Over the past few weeks we've talked about light. The song "We Are" calls us Children of the Day. We can parallel that with the OT "Children of Israel/Jacob" and the NT "Children of Abraham": offspring, descendants, people who carry a particular DNA and therefore those traits. We are stardust, we are golden...
Having talked about light over the past few weeks, we focused on salt. The word salary we get paid derives from salt. In some places and times, salt has been a form of currency you can exchange for desired goods or services. Like gold, salt is a fungible currency that has intrinsic value rather than value arbitrarily declared by the government (as happens with paper bank notes or federal reserve notes).
Salt is an easy and interesting topic. Salt adds some of its own flavor, but even more, salt brings out other flavors in the dishes we add it to. Making ice cream. Salting sidewalks to melt ice or so ice won't form. Similar to ways we use sodium chloride, the particular salt Jesus references, we can sprinkle or pour happiness, prayers, concern, gifts, recognition, services, and other graces to people and communities we encounter in ways we use salt. A whole lot at once might be overwhelming, so it's often wise to begin with a few shakes.
verse 20: ...unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees...
Though they often get a bad rap, in this context consider scribes and pharisees good leaders who wanted justice in the community, who tried to keep the commandments to the letter, did everything possible to make the world around them a better place.