What Jesus demands
During the sermon on the mount, Jesus tells his followers that they are “the salt of the earth”. (Matthew 5:13) It’s a potent analogy because the properties of salt are universally well known: it’s necessary for life, it adds flavor to food, and it works to purify and preserve what we eat. Just like leaven, you only need a little bit to be effective if you work it through your entire dish. The apostle Paul uses salt as an metaphor in Colossians 4 in a very similar way: “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.”
But what is it that makes his disciples salty? What distinguishes them from anyone else?
The obvious answer is Jesus Himself. His words are salty, and His words make His followers salty when we live by them. Christ’s followers are “salted” by Him, and then they themselves become the salt of the earth. I think that’s both thrilling and terrifying. Jesus could have said “I am the salt of the earth” and left it at that. It would have been true, and I would have preferred it because it would not have placed any demands on me. Instead, he said “you”.
Why did He do that?
Jesus is teaching us that He will build His church in and through each one of us. The church you see on this earth, full of sinful, weak, tempted sheep is the plan. There is no “plan B”. Jesus was the message and the messanger all rolled into one, and His disciples are supposed to be like Him. This is true especially of pastors, but if you’re a Christian, then you are the salt of the earth. God is going to build His kingdom through you.
Is that one of your life goals? Is that on your bucket list?
Love the one you’re with
Jesus goes on to emphasize this teaching by picking another potent metaphor that is universally known. He says, “You are the light of the world…” (Matthew 5:14-15) Now while Jesus clearly has plans for the whole world, He picks two places that are much more limited in scope: a city and a house. Individually, we are supposed to be like a lamp in a house, providing light for people we know and see regularly.
We get confused on this point because our technology gives us the impression that we could possibly be a light to the whole world all on our own. “If I just get this post to go viral…” You cannot light the world on your own, and you shouldn’t try. But you can be salt and light to the people who live in your home. You can be salt and light to the people you know and see regularly.
Collectively in our homes and churches, we can be like a city set on a hill, visible for many miles around because of our many lights. Together, we can build a culture that is an aroma of life to those who are being saved.
How are we supposed to be salt and light? He gives us the answer in the next line: “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) He’s not specific, but if you think about the people you see every day, you can easily come up with specific “good works” you can do to bless them.
Flipping the script
Notice how Jesus flips the script with these two examples. It’s the easiest thing in the world to develop friendships with people who are like you. It’s even easier to keep to yourselves once you have those relationships established. Whether it’s intentional or not, we begin to think in terms of Us vs Them, and we know who is on the “inside” and who is on the “outside”. But Jesus is teaching us that if we have received Him, then we have an obligation precisely to those people who are not like us. Salt and light is most needed where there isn’t much of it to begin with.
Being salt and light in college
So what does this have to do with college? The aim of all this is for others “to glorify your father in heaven” as a result of your good works. College is a time of exploration and discovery. A time to figure out where you are headed in life. The options are practically endless! But the temptations to pull you away from the light are constant and intense. This is the value of Jesus warning: salt that has become tasteless is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled.
While you’re at college, are you growing in potency, or are you becoming tasteless?