The Sunday Gospel Lectionary reading for the third Sunday before Lent in year A is Matthew 5:13-20, a short section of the so-called Sermon on the Mount which follows fromthe beatitudes. Somehow this collection of sayings is well known, and some of it crosses into common parlance ("salt of the earth")—and yet the important teaching of Jesus here seems to be neglected or ignored in many commonplace debates about or what it means means to be or povo de Deus.
The reading actually includes two different teaching themes: the distinctiveness of God's people and the relationship of Jesus' teaching in general to the Old Testament, so these are worth looking into, and I will do so in subsequent posts.
Salt in the ancient worldit was a vital asset. As most modern readers know, salt was used as a seasoning (as it is now), as a preservative (as it used to be before refrigeration), and as a soil fertilizer. The idea of people or disciples being 'salted' has parallels in Greek literature and rhetoric, and just as Paul later invites the Colossians' conversation to be 'salted' (i.e. enveloping and enchanting), Athenian scholars have been accused of of having a 'no salt' speech, that is, dull and dry.
The word for 'earth' here (agewhence we get 'geology') can mean the soil of the earth, the land (of Israel), and the whole world. In the immediate context of Jesus addressing those who are part of a renewal movement within the people of Israel, it would be natural to understand that Jesus is saying that his disciples will bring life and renewal to the entire nation. But as we read after the Great Commission in Matthew 28 when we are to take the teachings of Jesus to "all nations," we now naturally read this in more global cosmic terms.
The idea of salt “losing its salinity” seems quite foreign to modern ears, as we are used to using pure salt. Most salt in the ancient world, such as that mined from the Dead Sea, was actually a mixture of minerals, salt being just one. So it would be possible that the salt had dissolved, leaving only other mineral particles that offer none of the benefits of salt. But, as someone commented, Jesus is here wanting to teach us a lesson in discipleship, not chemistry! The absurdity of salt not being salty is only surpassed by the absurdity of a disciple of Jesus no longer making a distinctive, engaging, life-enhancing contribution to the world around him.
The judgmental statement about "being trampled on" has occasionally been taken in a positive sense: at least there is some use for that unhealthy "salt" on a road. But there seems to be nothing positive here in Jesus' words. Rather, we should read it along with his other judgmental sayings about people being "cast out" (Matthew 8:12, 13:42, 13:48, 22:13).
The idea of being 'the light of the world'runs parallel to the 'salt of the earth'. Just as salt contrasts with the food to which it is added, giving flavor to what is tasteless and preserving power in what would otherwise rot, so light implicitly contrasts with the darkness that surrounds it. There is a clear connection here with the ideas of the Fourth Gospel, and Matthew provides another connection by emphasizing the language of God as Father of Jesus. While in the Fourth Gospel it is Jesus who is “the light of the world” (John 1.9, 3.19, 8.12, 9.5, 12.46), in Matthew it is the followers of Jesus. Here we find a kind of Pauline idea of the disciples as the body of Christ, in this case representing the very luminous presence of Jesus in the world. (We find a similar idea in different forms in the welcoming of a disciple which is the welcoming of Jesus in Matthew 10:40, and the loving care of "the least of these my brethren"be loving care of Jesus in Matthew 25:31F)
The city on a hill is mentioned between the reference to 'the light of the world' and 'the lamp in the candlestick', making it clear that Jesus is not simply thinking of a city or village on a hill that is visible during the day. . , but the light of the city, created by the combined effect of the individual lights in the windows of the houses, during the night.
The usual household light in Jesus' day would be a lamp (Luchnos) shaped like a simple clay bowl with a tight end to hold a wick and filled with oil for fuel. (The garden plantlychnus, or campion rose, gets its name from the Latin because its slender stems can be used as wicks for such a lamp or in candles). It is worth noting here that a single lamp 'lights the whole house', implying that the usual peasant house consisted of a single large room, in which the family worked, slept and (at night) brought out the animals. , which provides us with important background information to understandthe details of the nativity in Luke 2.
It is striking here that Jesus is encouraging his followers to be visible in the light they bring, and (like Matthew's general emphasis on "righteousness" as the actions God requires) this light is expressed in good works. This verse is recited in the Book of Common Prayer before the collection, reminding the assembled people of Jesus' teaching that faith in Him finds expression in tangible acts of generosity and kindness. There may be some tension with Jesus' teaching in Matthew 6:1 about not performing our "righteous deeds" in public to gain respect and adulation, but the contrast is more apparent than real. Jesus is there rejecting ostentation; here he is calling his disciples to be visible.
Of these two parallel but different metaphorsabout the life of discipleship, we can note four things.
First, distinction is a non-negotiable part of living the kingdom life as a follower of Jesus. These words are derived from the "kingdom program" of the Beatitudes, which sets out what it means to live this life in contradiction to the expectations of "the world."
Because they committed themselves to following Jesus and thus adopting the new values of the kingdom of heaven, they will now set themselves apart from the rest” (R T FrancemateoNICNT p 171)
In second place, this distinction will not always be welcome and it will be a challenging vocation to live. We just read in the immediately preceding verses: “Blessed are you when people revile you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me…” and we don't have to separate that from those verses.
In third place, this distinction is visible, not hidden.
Here the context indicates that it is a question of the effect that the lives of the disciples were to have on those around them. Thus, he assumes that a disciple's "job description" does not fill private personal sanctity, but includes witnessing public exposure. (RT FrancemateoNICNT p 176).
by quarters, this ethos is corporate, albeit in different ways in the two illustrations. Salt is only useful if it is distributed over everything that needs to be preserved or seasoned; here we have an illustration of God's people spread throughout society (hence Rebecca Manley Pippert's book on evangelism a few years ago).out of the salt shaker). On the other hand, the city on a hill offers its light because the individual lights are gathered together. It is the collective light of the entire community that attracts the watching world.
And what is the point of all this?"That they may glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Mt 5:16). "Father" here is not a general term for mankind's universal relationship to God, but means the distinct relationship between God and those who have become his kingdom subjects. The subject of this discourse, and the aim of the discipleship it promotes, is not so much the improvement of life on earth as the implementation of the kingdom of God.
It is very impressive that Jesus, in Mateo's organization of his teaching material, goes on to talk about the state of the law. We need to remember that the surrounding culture from which Jesus' followers are to be distinguished here is not just the Gentile world (since Jesus is teaching in 'Galilee of the Gentiles'), but also the prevailing Jewish culture, which is ostensibly Torah-observant. . . (An earlier parallel for us is perhaps not just the unbelieving world, but also nominal Christianity.)
So if your previous comments emphasizediscontinuity, is extended here for emphasiscontinuitywith what God formerly spoke to his people. The "fulfillment" language echoes the language that Matthew already used, in connection with the birth narrative, in relating what God is doing in Jesus to what God has done before. Jesus here presents one of his emphatic proclamation formulas: 'Truly I say to you...' (mistranslated as 'truly'; in the Greek text we have a transliterated Aramaic or Hebrew term, so the aliens should do the same, as they do with other similar transliterations like 'Abba').
The 'smallest jot or tittle' (AV) has passed into proverbial usage, meaning the smallest thing. But the terms actually refer to the Hebrew letterYodit's himkeraia('horn'), the projection of the edge of the letter that distinguishes similar letters in the Hebrew alphabet, such asfill upofcomprar.
Again, the theme of "righteousness", that is, living out God's holy calling in right actions, is key. Surprisingly, mere obedience to the Torah according to the Pharisees' pattern will not effect this righteousness if attempted without also following Jesus' call as Messiah. In what again seems a very Pauline approach, obedience to the Torah is necessary, but in and of itself not sufficient.
So where does this leave us in our thinking about the law? Roland Deines (former professor of theology at the University of Nottingham) explores this in his essay 'Not the Law but the Messiah', Roland Deines, in the excellent volumebuilt in the rock(ed. Daniel Gurtner and John Nolland, 2008, derived fromTyndale NT Study Group).
The Torah in its former role cannot contribute to the eschatological justice now demanded, but as an expression of God's will, the Torah remains an important part of God's word and revelation, guiding and pointing to the teachings of Jesus (based on and inseparably related to this first expression of God's will). Furthermore, the Law will serve as a guide to know what sin is (cf. Rom 3:19) and what it means that God wants obedience from all human beings in all aspects of their personal and social life. But from now on obedience is oriented towards the kingdom of God, and Jesus is the only one who opens the way to the universal.Kingdom.
If Jesus is the only teacher, and Jesus lived his life as a law-abiding Jew who recognized Israel's scriptures as the word of God, does that mean his followers should do the same? I think the answer given by Matthew (and in many ways throughout the New Testament) is a clear no... The ethics of Jesus will always be an ethics based on all of Scripture, but in the perspective of the kingdom of God...
To be clear, but perhaps a little oversimplified: the task of the Law and the prophets is to keep Israel separate as a chosen people in the world and to uphold God's will within Israel. The ultimate goal of the kingdom of heaven is for all nations to live and walk in the light of the Lord. All are invited to enter the kingdom of God, and barriers are no longer needed to keep out the godly...
The Law written in hearts through the Holy Spirit changes the status of the written Law. The Law remains a witness to the will of God. But its place in God's history with the world changed with the appearance of the Messiah. The Messiah paved the way for eschatological justice, and from now on the Torah has only a sort of supporting role. In other words, only as long as the Torah serves the messianic purpose is the Torah valid.
It helps us in two ways when we read the Old Testament as God's word to us. On the one hand, we must read it Christologically, not looking for 'spring traps' that pop up and mention Jesus, but reading it with an awareness that the whole direction of the Torah and other writings reaches its climax in what God has done for us in Christ. . .
On the other hand, we need to read exactly how Jesus continues in the following verses, not just focusing on the external, but also asking questions about intent. Jesus knows that we are body-soul units, that the inside and the outside are inseparable, and that God looks as much at the heart as at the hands. We must, in our reading of the Old Testament, always pass from "What does he say?" to "What's the intent?" before asking ourselves "What is God saying to us now?"
Join Ian and Jamesas they discuss all these questions, and offer some examples of what it means, in their weekly video discussion.
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