"Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
"You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.
"You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven."
- Matthew 5:11-16
In yesterday's reading, Jesus began to preach the Sermon on the Mount, beginning with the Beatitudes. Seeing the multitudes who were now coming to Him, Jesus went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
"Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." My study bible suggests here that those who suffer persecution for Christ walk the road of the prophets, saints, and martyrs. The Greek here for be exceedingly glad means to "leap exceedingly with joy." (See Acts 5:40-41.) Jesus has just given us the Beatitudes, a series of blessings with which those who follow this Kingdom are endowed. We may call them the "happinesses" -- a joy and peace that permeate life even in times its material conditions may not be those considered in terms of prosperity or acquisition: a blessed kind of life independent of and coexistent with the state of one's world.
"You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men." Jesus describes those who follow His way of life as salt and light. Both are necessary for human life. Salt was a preservative, and also something that gave enhancement to the flavor of nourishment. It had both religious and sacrificial significance (Leviticus 2:13; see also Numbers 18:19, 2 Chronicles 13:5). Eating salt with someone meant to be bound together in loyalty. Those who would be the salt of the earth are those who preserve God's covenant and give true flavor to the world.
"You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." The true and uncreated Light is God (in the Creed we call Christ "Light from Light"). God is symbolized by light in the Old Testament (Isaiah 60:1-3), the divine Law (Psalm 118:105), and Israel in contrast to all other nations. In the New Testament, the Son of God is called "light" (John 1:4-9; 8:12; 1 John 1:5). Light is both necessary for life, and also for the capacity to see clearly. In faith, we rely on the divine light for spiritual illumination, and believers become "sons of light" (John 12:36; 1 Thessalonians 5:5) who shine in a dark and at times twisted and corrupt world (Philippians 2:15). At Easter in many churches around the world, parishioners are called to "come receive the Light," symbolized in the Paschal candle. As Christians, we are called to be "light" in the world, to glorify the Father: this is both personal and public, as it can bring others into this place of sharing in and bearing the light, a testimony.
Jesus teaches His disciples that, as "salt" and "light," those who follow His Way, they are the glory of God. They are in some sense the treasure of God in the world. Light and salt give us images of the value of those who seek this way, who will be His disciples, and carry within them the power of spiritual salt and light into the world. If we think of traditional portrayals of holy people -- Christ, Mary, and the saints of the Church -- we think of haloes. They are like crowns of light carried by those who are illumined with holy light. This is a way to see in Christ's words the way that God is glorified through those who will be this light in the world. Salt, as preservative, is indicative of those who will be bound with His Covenant, who are loyal to His word, true disciples. All of this is indicative of the importance of Christ's disciples to God, the necessity of this light that must shine into the world. We can think that this is the purpose for which He has come into the world, so that the glory of God will be reflected through those who become light and salt in His name, in His word. It gives us a picture of the deep love invested in us, in human beings, and the confidence of God that we are made to carry God's light, God's nature (if you will) in the world. We are created to become more and more "like God." Let us consider the ways in which His light transforms us, and creates in us the people of God, those who will carry His likeness into the world. What things must we cast off in order to do so? What is incompatible with loving His light?