Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Last time, Jesus presented to us the statutes of the kingdom of heaven, the Magna Carta for the New People of God. Today, he is telling us what to expect from the world and what is our mission.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Matt 5:11). This beatitude differs from the previous eight. The plural “you” indicates that it is directly addressed to Christ’s followers. It is also longer and in addition to persecution, it includes insult and slander. Faithfulness to Christ has its price. As Christ’s disciples, we cannot expect a better treatment that our Lord. “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18). We have chosen Christ over the world and the world knows it. “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19).
“Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mt 5:12). Instead of complaining about being persecuted, insulted, and slandered, we should “rejoice and be glad”. The reason is the heavenly reward awaiting us for our faithfulness. Christian life needs to be patterned after the prophets of old: different, outspoken, defiant, faithful to God, and ready to suffer. The prophets are immortalized in their books, the martyrs are alive in Christ, but their persecutors are gone, nowhere to be found, with their names tainted forever.
Our true identity and mission are captured in two metaphors:
You are the salt of the earth;
You are the light of the world;
Salt in the time of Jesus was used as the main preservative and seasoning. It keeps things from getting rotten and gives flavor to food. The Old Testament had the following regulation: “with all your offerings you must offer salt” (Lev 2:13). It was called a covenant of salt (Num 18:19). Even the incense used in the temple was seasoned with salt (Ex 30:35). In the second book of Kings, Elisha heals the source of drinking water in Jericho by throwing salt into it: “Thus says the Lord, I have healed this water; from now on neither death nor miscarriage shall come from it” (2 Kings 2:21; see 2 Kings 2:18–20).
The metaphor of salt indicates that those who believe in Christ should be “an example of purity,” “must have a certain antiseptic influence on life,” and should “lend flavor to life.” The disciples of Jesus should season the world, to make it pure and holy. Without them, the world is insipid. Christ is throwing us into the world for the purpose of healing the world. Can salt lose its taste? Literally, not, but metaphorically, yes. It is a warning for all Christ’s disciple. If we become insipid, like the world around us, we lose our identity and God’s given purpose: to season, to heal, to renew the world.
From the moment of the Fall (Gen 3), the world has fallen into darkness. This darkness is manifested through idolatry and immorality (see Romans 1:18–27). God’s entire plan of salvation has one purpose: to get the world out of darkness into His wonderful light (1 Peter 2:9). It will be achieved through God’s servant who is “a light for the nations”. His task is:
This servant is the Word made flesh (John 8:12). Together with apostle John, we have seen this light, “the true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:9). Moreover, we know that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). And now, this light shines through us. We are supposed to reflect this light in our lives. We are “the light of the world” in the Lord (Eph 5:9), shining as lights (Phil 2:15). We “are all children of light, children of the day” (1 Thess 5:5).
We reflect this light through good works. These good works spring from faith (John 5:29) and love (Rom 13:8). It is faith in Christ acting through love that gives birth to many works of charity. These good works will cause the world to glorify our heavenly Father for having such great children here on earth. It is the first time in the Gospel of Matthew that Jesus calls God the Father of His disciples.
Salt seasons the world, light enlightens the world;
Salt prevents the world from decaying, light shows the world the way.
That is our task. We are not to conform to the world but to transform it. We are not to withdraw from the world, but to stand on the top of the world and show it its direction. That is our responsibility, our mission, our purpose. In this way, we lead the world to glorify the Father in heaven.