You are the salt of the earth.
You are the light of the world.
All of the commentaries I have are in agreement that these statements from Jesus are of a corporate nature. The “you” here is referring to y'all, not necessarily an individual “you” of James, John, Peter, Bill, Sherrie, Pat, Nancy, or whomever. He is referring to the corporate body of believers.
One of those commentaries does a good job, I think, of discussing the salt of the earth statement. Saying, “You are the salt of the earth” today seems to have taken on an entirely different meaning than what Jesus apparently had in mind. You may know I'm not from here, so this may not have any meaning, but in Montana, the Dakotas, Eastern Washington, Eastern Oregon, and other parts of the west, when people call someone “salt of the earth” it has a moral quality to it. It means they were good, trustworthy, honest people. It means their yes meant yes. It means their handshake was as good as their signature. It means that they were the most likely to be featured in a Chevy truck commercial wearing jeans, boots, and cowboy hat stomping through the dirt, rain, and mud.
This commentary points out that salt of the earth is not a moral or character judgment on the part of Jesus. It was, instead, used to give color to a corporate body. It was used to describe the function of that body, not its status.
Our function is to shake up the world. Our function is to stand both out and apart from the world. Our function is to be the flavoring of God's banquet. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Our function is to help wake up the world to the wonderfulness of God. This is why Jesus used the salt image. When things are salted, our feast takes on a new flavor.
But salt today is common place. It's on practically every table. Some people salt their food even before trying it. Maybe this saying of Jesus has lost its saltiness.
If this statement describes our corporate function, and if this statement has lost some of its impact, maybe we need a new image. Our function is to shake up the world. Our function is to draw attention to God. Our function is to be the flavoring in God's banquet. Therefore, you are the habeneros of the world. You, as the St. John's corporate body, are what will flavor God's banquet as we invite people to taste and see that the Lord is good.
You are the light of the world.
Here again we have a corporate “you,” a description that this institution, this community, this body is the light of the world. Before I discuss that, though, we need a disclaimer. We, the corporate “you,” this body of believers, are really not the light of the world. The true light of the world is Jesus, and his light shines through us into the world.
Technicalities aside, what does it mean for us to be the light of the world? Light does a number of things: it makes it so we can see where we are going; it provides warmth; it allows for growth; it can make us happy. And in the context of scripture, it drives away the darkness and it draws people in.
It's that last part, drawing people in, that I want to focus.
Out west there are plenty of stories about people whose car has broken down or run out of gas, are wandering through the night, or are trudging through a snow storm, who see a light in the distance. That light draws them into a house where they find shelter, food, and safety. People traveling will more likely stop at motels that have working lights than not. Like moths, we are drawn to the light.
We are living in a world that is hell bent on promoting division and fear. People of all persuasions are asking to be defended from Them; with some of those requests being legitimate. We are doing our level-headed best to seal ourselves off from any and all who are different. We are trying to cover the light and hide it.
But that isn't what Jesus is calling us to do. This corporate body is called to be a light to the world. If we live without fear, if we live as Christ is calling us to live, if we live so that our light shines out in the darkness, then we will attract all those people who are broken down, walking in darkness, and stumbling through dangerous terrain looking for shelter. If our light shines in the world, we will attract those needing safe haven.
I believe St. John's is that place of safe haven. All are welcome here: black, white, yellow, brown, male, female, gay, straight, trans. No walls. No separation. When our light shines, it shines on everyone.
So here we are, trying to add flavor to this world through our distinctive calling as disciples. That seasoning shows up in the Community Cafe, Micah's backpacks, the cold weather shelter, and our soon-to-be daily worship. And here we are shining the light of Christ onto a darkened and fearful world, a light that indicates, “In here you are safe.”
We also need to remember that this is not always a popular thing to do. Not everyone likes habeneros and would rather avoid them all together. Following Jesus may lead us into some spicy situations. And not everyone drawn to our light will fit our preconceived notions of what an Episcopalian should look like. But if we are the light of the world, if we are shining the light of Christ onto a darkened world, we need to be prepared to welcome all it attracts.
You are spicy. You are shiny. Our challenge is to live into those functions without losing our flavor or dimming our light.