I spoke last week of a qualitative difference between the secular soul of society and the Christian soul of the church.
Jesus expands on this theme in this well known sermon and calls his followers to be the salt of the earth. What does salt do? Well salt both flavours and preserves, so He wants us to alter the flavour of society by our difference. We also know that it doesn’t take too much salt to alter the flavour of something so even as a minority we have the enormous potential to preserve, alter and enhance society together.
To do that we need to be distinctive – we need to have a different flavour to the prevailing culture. If we are not distinctive or as Jesus puts it, if we “have lost our flavour” we are not fit for purpose and need to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
It stands to reason that if our values are simply a mirror image of the values of society then we have no capacity to change anything. So even if we are a voice crying in the wilderness, we need to ask for the courage to stand there nevertheless and have the confidence in our beliefs.
The next parable talks of the church being the light of the world. We are used, perhaps too used to calling Jesus the light of the world, but here Jesus calls us the light of the world. It is much easier to see Jesus as the light of the world because that means we don’t have to do anything or change anything, but if we are the light of the world then we have responsibilities and everything becomes a little more uncomfortable.
Jesus tells us that in being different and acting in a different way we will do good works and we should do them openly and unashamedly and let people see that we have done them. Don’t shy away from doing things publically or be too shy to let people know that good works are being done. Not arrogantly or rudely in a condescending way, but in a way nonetheless that allows our light to shine before others, “So they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. “ The Church of England does so much good work but is almost ashamed to say so or draw attention to the fact.
Lastly in this three part teaching session Jesus gives us today Jesus states that He came not to abolish the law but to fulfil the law. He then says “that not one letter, not one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all is accomplished”.
This is problematic for us for the very obvious reason that we don’t follow the law and Gentile Christians never have done right from the start. Indeed in Mark’s gospel in direct contrast, Jesus appears to overturn the dietary laws in a stroke by declaring “all foods clean”. St. Paul is an advocate for gentile converts at the council of Jerusalem when he wins for us an exemption from nearly all laws except that we should eat no meat with blood in it (which we ignore completely) and abstain from sexual immorality.
So what is going on? Christianity from its very early days was a religion of Grace where the Jewish laws no longer apply so why does here Jesus advocate even stricter adherence to the law?
The clue comes when Jesus says “I have come not to abolish the law but to fulfil the law.”
There are always two parts to religion. The outer shell, the buildings, the bureaucracy, the hierarchy, the Holy books, the rituals, the creeds and dogmas and then we have the inner life of that same religion, the spiritual heart to which the outer shell of our religion all reflect.
Jesus discerned and revealed to us that the outer written laws were all a reflection of the beating heart of the faith which was Love. The fulfilling of the law to which we should adhere to with a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees is this;
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind and with all your strength, and love your neighbour as yourself”. There is no other commandment greater than these. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
The outer written law in the Bible, like all the outward forms of religion, is an attempt to reflect the inner law, the spiritual law, to which Jesus invites us to give total assent.
The law without the spirit is a dead hand. As Paul himself writes “The letter kills. It is the spirit that gives life” (2 Cor.3:6)
With our lives illumined by the spirit of Love – the source and beating heart of the law we can do good works and be the salt that keeps society fresh and healthy. The heart of the faith is Love and as John writes in 1 John 4:7, God is Love.
If we lose our flavour and refuse to shine, we may as well be thrown out and trampled underfoot.