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 lampstand, 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 righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees is a righteousness that is based on the Law. By Jesus’ time the Law had expanded from the two tablets of commandments into more than six hundred rules and regulations for governing Jewish belief and behavior.

The “law and the prophets” in Judaism formed a dual authority over the societal order and personal piety of the people. This was, in short, the orthodoxy of his day. When he began proclaiming his gospel and teaching about the kingdom of God, many were convinced that this new spirituality would pull down and do away with organized religion and its law.

Jesus knew that you can destroy orthodoxy, but only to raise another in its place. The logic why this is so is fairly straightforward. Orthodoxy is religion seen from the outside, and as long as you are working to discredit the dogmas of the system you will have to replace these rejects with others that you find more credible. Every “new spirituality” that has ever gotten a foothold in society as a challenger to existing orthodoxies has succumbed eventually to a dogmatism of its own.

Genuine spirituality is religion experienced from within. Because it isn’t about a systematic arrangement of absolute truths, a healthy spirituality doesn’t feel the need to replace one idea with another. Its principal aim is to live in God, and to live God out!


“You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.” Who is? To whom is Jesus speaking in this early chapter of Matthew’s story? Not the organized church, certainly, which is not yet on the scene.

According to the narrative, Jesus is addressing “great crowds” of people who had been following him from all over Palestine. These are not “true believers,” and neither is there any suggestion that they are converts to the “system” of Jesus’ teachings. Their identity may be difficult for us to accept, but they are very simply people – human beings.

It seems that Jesus held a remarkably high view of human nature, and was of the belief that the human being is something inherently special and noble. And according to the way he was remembered as treating others, it would not be a stretch to attribute to Jesus a perspective on the human being as a potential of God.

As divine potential, a human person has inside him- or herself the powers of salt and light. Jesus called human beings the salt of the earth, and the light of the world. What significance is there to these different phrases?

Earth refers to our home planet, while the term world is used throughout the Bible in reference to the layer of human culture that encircles the earth with a halo of art, architecture, communications, commerce, science, industry and political life. The one who lives out of the divine center of what they are is like an enhancing spice among Earth’s creatures, and like a radiant lamp among the world’s people.

That kind of person can breathe new lift into religion, fresh meaning into “the law and prophets,” and thereby bring to fulfillment the old and worn orthodoxies of our day.


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