As we said last week, the Sermon on the Mount was a call to Jewish Christians to live their lives in the present in a manner that made sense in God’s promised future; because the future had arrived in the present in Jesus of Nazareth. This promised future was in direct conflict with the current Jewish life in the 1st century hence its ideals were radical. As a result of this Jesus needed to do at least two things:
1. Show the Jews that even though his movement seemed radical, it was a fulfillment of all that Israel had longed for for centuries.
2. Show them that he and his followers were really living the new way he was announcing.
These two realities must continually be held in close tension to each other, Jesus announced a new movement but that new movement at the same time was fulfilling what the Jews had lived waiting to be fulfilled. Therefore in this passage Jesus was offering something new and revolutionary to which he would remain faithful to, but it was also in fact, the reality towards which Israel’s history and tradition pointed to. As Christians, our lives ought in the same way to reflect the ideals of the kingdom Jesus announced and brought about through his life, death and resurrection. Although the Sermon was initially given to a Jewish Christian audience, it reflects a way of life for the followers of Jesus.
After the introduction to the sermon by the beatitudes (Matt. 5:1-12), the following section now introduces the main themes that from there on occupied Jesus’ whole ministry. Jesus had come to fulfill both the law and the prophets Matthew tells us. As such, he called Israel of his day to be really Israel as God intended it to be in the first place. What he said in this section also applies to all Christians even though it was initially meant to challenge Jesus’ 1st century contemporaries;
• God had called Israel to be the salt of the earth, but Israel was behaving in no way different from everybody else! How about us? In what ways are we like or different from Israel of Jesus’ day?
• God also called Israel to be the light of the world but Israel became part of the darkness instead of leading the nations to the light (Isa. 42:6; 49:6; Matt.
4:16). in what way(s) are we similar or different from them?
• The teachings of the scribes and the Pharisees fell short of on faithfulness to God, hence those who wanted to belong to the new kingdom breaking in through Jesus needed to discover a way of covenant behavior not just by teaching but by a change of heart and mind and their righteousness needed exceed that of the Pharisees and the Scribes otherwise their entrance into the kingdom Jesus was bringing in was not assured. This goes without say that the same applies to us. In what ways are we similar or different than the Pharisees and the Scribes in our approach to God?
This was a revolutionary message while at the same time a message deeply in tune with the ancient stories and promises of the Scriptures. Jesus brought it all into reality in himself. He was the salt of the earth, he was the light of the world; set up on a hill, crucified for all the world to see, becoming a beacon of hope and new life for everybody, drawing people to worship his father, embodying the way of self-giving love which is the deepest fulfillment of the law and the prophets. That is why these sayings which originally applied to Israel in their context now apply to all followers of Jesus who draw on his life as their own source of life.
Question for Reflection: In what aspects of our lives, communities and even our world are salt and light needed today and how can we through following Jesus meet those needs?