Light of the World
With two great metaphors, Jesus shows us the effect a person has on everyone near, once they have come to see life through God’s eyes…salt and light.
As modern Westerners, salt makes no sense until we look back to see what it meant to ancient life before refrigeration and antibiotics. But light seems to make perfect sense right away. We think we know what Jesus means, which is probably worse. By thinking Jesus is only talking about the brightness and illumination, the goodness we associate with light, we’ll miss the depth of his meaning.
First, in the Genesis creation story, the earth is formless, void, and covered in darkness until God creates light on the first day. In Hebrew and Aramaic, the word translated as darkness doesn’t necessarily mean blackness, but chaos, disorder, non-functioning, unusable. God brings light: order, harmony, intelligence, support for life. The word translated as created also means to build, differentiate or allocate roles. God separates light and dark, day and night, land and water, male and female and makes them functional in supporting life. The sun is not created until day four, so harmony and functionality are primary meanings.
Second, the darkness precedes the light, is older than the light. Curved, mysterious forces like wind and water precede the straight, ordered rays of sunlight. Each one of us must take this path if we want to follow Jesus’ Way, because enlightenment is only achieved by first descending into endarkenment, being willing to sell off whatever straight-lined, intellectual order we think we control in order to experience the mystery and disturbance of unknowing necessary for seeing truth as it really is.
Like salt, light is also the ability to support life. Not just doing good things for others, but to make sense of life, give meaning, purpose, connection to life. We are this salt and light, but only if we are willing to first experience the darkness that comes before the dawn.