Friday, February 03, 2023

Epiphany 5A

Salt Leaven Light on plaid background
Matthew 5:13-20

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. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In 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. 18 For 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. 19 Therefore, 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.

20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

The Gospel According to St Matthew overview

So Far in Matthew

The first sentence announces a new genesis/new creation—biblios genesis. According to Matthew, Jesus' birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension initiates this new creation, new genesis. According to Jesus, our lives and ministries continue the new creation, the new genesis.

Matthew's genealogy includes non-Israelite foreigners; the narrative continues with 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; forty days of wilderness solitude and temptations; Jesus calls disciples Peter, Andrew, James, and John.

Sermon on the Mount

Jesus' sermon on the mount has five sections that parallel the five books of Moses in the Torah or Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy…

Jesus begins [Matthew 5:1-12] by announcing attributes or characteristics of people who follow him. These Blessed qualities are gifts of grace rather than "be-attitudes," yet having these qualities demands 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.

He 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? 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.

Through Moses God gave the people ten words or commandments at Mount Sinai. Jesus brings us words of life in the Sermon on the Mount on a hill or higher ground, with a different style from the commands God gave us through Moses, yet like the ten words/decalogue, Jesus is all about our flourishing together in safe, healthy, productive community. Jesus' entire ministry shows us how to live and love together in service, how to be church together.

Lights in the World

We're still in the season of Epiphany that emphasizes Jesus as light of the world, redeemer for all creation everywhere. Today is about our being light of the world – people who radiate like a city on a hill! – and about our living 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

So wake up sleeper
Lift your head
We were meant for more than this
Fight the shadows, conquer death
Make the most of time we've left.

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.

You easily can find some good performances of "We Are." (I no longer link to YouTube videos because they don't predictably stay there.)

The song "We Are" calls us Children of the Day that corresponds with the Old Testament Children of Israel/Jacob and the New Testament Children of Abraham: offspring, descendants, people who carry a certain DNA and therefore rock those traits.

Salt of the Earth

The salary we get paid derives from salt. In some places and times, salt has been a form of currency you can exchange for goods or services. Like gold, salt is a fungible currency with 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. Adding a little so your sauté will brown. Salting sidewalks to melt ice or so ice won't form. Just as we use the salt Jesus references, sodium chloride, we can sprinkle or pour happiness, prayers, concern, gifts, recognition, services, and other graces to people and communities we encounter. Beacuse a whole lot at once might be overwhelming, it's often wise to begin with a few shakes. The sometime glare of afternoon sun can be unwelcome—try a gentle sunrise or an evening glow.

A little salt goes a long way; the flame of light from a small candle can fill a dark room. Mix it all up and add seasoning to life everywhere we go! The world needs us to help it be tasty and lit up!


verse 20: …unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees…

Though they often get a bad rap for coming across as so very grace-impaired, in this context scribes and pharisees are good citizen leaders who yearn for justice, try to keep the commandments to the letter, who do everything possible to make the world a better place. Scribes and pharisees provide good examples of the justice and righteousness that pervade Matthew's gospel.

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