Jesus calls His disciples the salt of the earth and the light of the world. In an intimate gathering with them on a mountainside and a good distance away from the huge crowd that follows behind, Jesus took this opportunity to teach them some valuable lessons.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house” (Matthew 5:14).
With masterful use of symbols and imagery, Jesus calls His disciples the light of the world. Christ-followers are light because they are one in Christ. He declares, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). The ‘light of life’ is not an external accessory that adorns the outside but the state of being in union with Him.
Furthermore, Christ-followers are light of the world, which means any habitable place on earth: at home, the court of law, school, hospital, factory floor, and so on. When Jesus used the imagery of a city atop a hill that cannot be hidden, similarly, nothing can be hidden from one’s view wherever light shines. Jesus goes on to say that nobody lights a lamp and covers it with a bowl or basket but sets it on a lampstand to benefit everyone inside the house. In Jesus’ day, the small oil lamps that were commonly used were inadequate to brighten a room so they put them on lampstands to illuminate a wider area of the house.
Why does the world need light? The main function of light is to dispel darkness and its main property is to shine. The world, then, must be a dark place where Jesus wants us to make His light visible. There is growing ignorance about God’s Word, unbelief, deceitfulness, idolatry, and hardheartedness to the truth of Christ – signs of a darkening world. Jesus teaches us to be strays of light that dispel darkness by actively witnessing to the Good News of His presence now, and pointing to the glorious Kingdom that is to come.
”Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). When we bear Christ’s light through godly living, our good works may lead others to praise our heavenly Father to whom we belong. Good deeds must point others to God, not to us, as the source of all goodness.
To be light is to dispel falsehood and speak the truth; to work for justice, peace and righteousness. In the context of Western culture, it is to resist the acquisitive and idolatrous lifestyle that the world promotes. It is to support ethical business practices, and to work for the common good rather than the interests of a few. Furthermore, a society that has become unsure about what it means to live (and die) with dignity needs Christians willing to speak for the vulnerable: the unborn, the marginalized, including those who lack the means or faculties to fight for their rights as humans created in the image of God. It also means to be good caretakers of creation as God has entrusted us to do, just as creation also supports life. Through acts of charity, kindness, compassionate care in community and faithful submission to the Triune God, we can then, say, that we live true to the character that Christ has placed in us.
We are the salt of the earth. We are the light of the world. We are the essence of God’s Kingdom here on earth. As we delight in the blessed purpose for which we have been called, we also long for His promise of eternal rewards in heaven. What better expression could there be than a life lived in blessedness as covenanted by Christ?