24 September 2013

Matthew 5:13-20

"Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven." (v. 16)


The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) make a beautifully poetic and yet challenging start to the Sermon on the Mount (the first block of Jesus' teaching in Matthew's Gospel). Now Jesus turns to more tangible elements that all his listeners would be very familiar with, salt, light and the law.

Salt was an essential commodity, not only giving flavour to food, but more importantly acting as a preservative, in a hot climate keeping food fresher for longer. But it may also be that Jesus was using salt as a metaphor for wisdom, with the phrase "lost its taste" (verse 13) suggesting the possibility of wisdom being replaced by foolishness. Jesus says to his disciples that it is they, not the religious officials, who are truly wise.

Similarly it is the disciples who have the true light, something that Jesus could see and knew that others would see and follow. Jerusalem, a city on a hill, was regarded as a light to the Gentiles (non-Jews). Similarly the disciples would one day be witnesses of the glory of God to people far beyond the mount on which they now sat.

We often consider Jesus to have had little respect for the religious law. After all, this is what repeatedly got him in to conflict with the religious leaders of the day, and in the end led him to be condemned and crucified as a law-breaker. In addition much of Paul's theological argument in his letters centres on his belief that "Christ is the end of the law" (Romans 10:4). And yet in this passage from Matthew's Gospel, Jesus says his intent is to fulfil the law, not abolish it (verse 17). For Jesus, as for any Jew, God's law was important, but for him fulfilling the law did not mean following petty rules and regulations: it meant justice, mercy and above all, love. This then would be something that would truly be salt with full flavour and a light for all to follow.

To Ponder

  • How do you ensure the salt of your faith doesn't lose its taste?
  • Is your love of God visible to others around you? What stops your light shining? And what might you do make it shine brighter?
  • How can we stop the rules and regulations that govern our churches getting in the way of us living by the true law of God?

Bible notes author

Dr Richard Vautrey

Richard Vautrey is a local preacher and church steward in Leeds, and a former vice-president of the Methodist Conference. He works as a GP, is an elected member of both the BMA council and Royal College of GPs council as well as being the deputy chair of the BMA's GP committee.