Salt and Light and Riddles


“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.”

Immediately following the pronouncement of blessings to a ragtag bunch that includes the persecuted, the poor and the hungry comes two riddles. At first glance, the fact that they are riddles is a bit obscured by our (over)familiarity with the words themselves.

When Jesus calls his hearers the salt of the earth, we can find immediate connection. Salt is essential to any type of cuisine and there isn’t a day that goes by when each kitchen all over the world employs at least a little salt. From meats to vegetables to breads to sweets, nobody can do without salt.

Then there is the equally obvious preservation factor that salt provides. The necessity of salt to Jesus’ original hearers would need no elaboration. Without refrigeration, meat in particular tends to go south in a hurry unless properly salted. Even today, nearly all of our canned goods are “nonperishable” due to the miracle of salt.

And while, technically, it is possible for salt to lose its taste, salt losing its saltiness is not a common occurrence. Salt, by in large, will remain salty forever.

The second riddle that Jesus gives is in describing his hearers as the light of the world. Then quickly warns them not to hide themselves. Their visibility in living out their identity is part of the strategic formation of the kingdom of God.

And so Jesus has given these two (im)possibilities: salt that becomes unsalty and light that is hidden. Yet there must be a reason that these riddles issue as warnings from the mouth of God in the flesh. There must be some impulse in us that is fighting against the inevitable.

salt_and_lightI think Jesus shows his deep understanding of humanity in these riddles. He is well aware of our propensity to forget who we are in the world. He is well aware that his disciples– then and now– would encounter one identity crisis after another.

In presenting these ridiculous scenarios, of things refusing to be what they are, Jesus is playing with our imaginations. Sure, salt can be used to be thrown out, but who would ever do that? And yes, light can be hidden under a basket, but is that a realistic scenario?

And yes, it is possible for his people to forget their calling to make a difference in the world. The church, at times, has forgotten to add stability where there is instability and truth where there are lies.

But our reluctance to live into who we are can no more change our identity than salt can lose its flavor or light can lose its power to illuminate. Sooner or later, we will each be revealed for who we are.

Sooner, hopefully, rather than later.

Photo: Pintrest, K.P. Rosenberger

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