13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
Matthew 5:13-16 (NIV)
When I decided I wanted to go through the parables of Jesus, I looked in different sources to see just how many there are. I was surprised to see the lists range from 33 to 60. Some lists only include the teachings that fall clearly in the parable category. Others include every parable and proverbial phrase. The list I’m using has 46 and some of them probably fall into that latter group. Verse 13 of this passage is most likely one of those. However, I believe it ties into verses 14 through 16 so I’ve included it here.
Nearly every commentary I’ve read mentions the two properties of salt when referencing verse 13. Salt is used to season things and it is used to preserve things. This would be especially true in the days before refrigeration. Mark Moore points out two more additional characteristics of salt. In Leviticus 2:13 salt is used to purify sacrifices. Salt also produces thirst. While the latter two are interesting to ponder, Jesus is most likely referring to the first two. What he seems to be telling his audience (a crowd gathered on a mountainside) is that they are to have a positive influence on the world around them. He warns them that if they aren’t “salty” enough then they’ll be thrown out. Salt is useless if it gets wet or is contaminated and cannot produce the expected results. Likewise, we are pretty much useless if we are not making a positive impact on those around us.
Jesus then goes on to say that those who follow him are to be lights shining in such a way that people see and give thanks to God. You don’t light a lamp and then hide it. You light it so that it will penetrate the darkness around you. In this context I believe Jesus is talking about doing good for others. Notice that he says you should put your lamp on a stand so that everyone can benefit from it. When you live in the mountains and are driving at night you can see every little light that is on. They stand out in the darkness. If you are driving along and come up on a city or town you can see the lights before you get there. The beacon of a lighthouse is visible from far away. I believe Jesus is teaching that the good deeds we do (for others) is a flicker of light in the darkness. It only takes a little bit of light to break the darkness. Those who claim to follow him should make sure they are giving off light, not so that people will praise us. We do it so that they will see God.
Grace and peace.