When John the Baptist burst onto the scene he did so with a simple and alarming message: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Mark and Luke call it the kingdom of God, Matthew the kingdom of heaven. All three refer to the same thing: the reign of God. That is, the fulfillment of the promises of the OT when God would once and for all display his sovereignty in the redemption of his people.
Like John the Baptist, Jesus, too, makes this his central focus, his singular message. After his baptism and after his temptation in the wilderness he takes his seat on the mount and his first words are, Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. What follows is what we have come to call the beatitudes (5:2-12); kingdom norms that are more and more realized in the life of those who are numbered as citizens of this heavenly kingdom.
As these kingdom norms are realized and internalized in the believer’s life they work themselves out in kingdom witness. You are the salt of the earth and you are the light of the world.
Salt was used for a lot of things in the ancient near eastern world—everything from fertilizer to flavor for foods—but it was chiefly used as a preservative. Tricky thing about the ancient near east was that those living there did so before Benjamin Franklin was born and thus they lacked refrigerators and freezers. Salt helped them preserve food from normal decay. Our place in society in life is something akin to this. The world is broken and in a state of decay. But Jesus is the great physician and he is binding up wounds. As servants of this king, ours, too, is a calling of healing and preservation in a world of decay. For most of us this is faithful presence—being salt in faithful marriages and families and vocations, all of which contribute to the good and preservation of society.
Light is so axiomatic that it is almost difficult to define. The best way to grasp it is to go out to a place where there is very little light and turn on a bright flashlight. And then think about how many flashlights you would need to overcome the darkness entirely. The principal way we shine is by speaking of the true light that shines in darkness, the light of the world, who calls people out of darkness into his marvelous light. From here the light shines from us as kingdom norms are displayed for the world to see.
Both of Jesus’ metaphors assume something very important. They assume that you’re rubbing shoulders with those who are not yet members of the kingdom of heaven. They absolutely will not allow for retreat or withdrawal of any kind—the Sabbath day, excepted. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “Flight into the invisible is a denial of the call. A community of Jesus which seeks to hide itself has ceased to follow him.” Yep. After all, no one puts a lamp under a basket. We have can lights at our house. What would you think if you came over and the switches were on but the cans were covered with cardboard? No, ours is a light to shine before others and it’s going to take more relational investment than cold calls and street corners to do it.
This is the witness of the kingdom. Salt and light. Preservation and illuminating. Grace and truth. This is what our friends and families need. May God continue to open doors, and minds and hearts too, as we salt and light this world we find ourselves in.