Salt and Light

“You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.”

Matthew 5:13-20

This past Sunday morning I attended a unique worship service with some friends. It was called “Street Church;” all the parishioners are homeless youth from a particular area of Guatemala City.

Street Church is coordinated by a ministry called Sigo Vivo, founded by Pastor Rudy Hernandez, his wife Tatiana and their teenage daughters. Rudy pastored an established church in the neighborhood for 16 years before they “let him go;” the leaders of the congregation were not happy about the presence of street youth attending services, using their bathrooms, receiving medical care from Tatiana (a family physician), and eating on the premises.

As part of their ministry, the Hernandez family and street youth now meet every Saturday and Sunday in a park down the street from their previous church. Ironically, the pastor’s former parishioners pass by on the way to their own sequestered service every Sunday.

As I sit with Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:13-20, which immediately follow the listing of the Beatitudes, I can imagine Jesus having the Hernandez family and their young friends in mind. Church on the Street was a beautiful expression of the salt of the earth and the light of the world. The homeless youth led the worship music and the pastor’s daughter, Taty, preached. The young people repeatedly and politely raised their hands peppering Taty with questions, giving testimony by making application of the text to their everyday lives and, while quoting Scripture, exhorted their friends and street family to consider the power of the undying love of Jesus in the face of unspeakable obstacles, hardship and pain.

A lot of ink has been spilled trying to decipher what Jesus meant by the images of salt and light. Countless sermons and Sunday School lessons refer to salt as a purifying or cleansing agent, a seasoning for flavoring food/life, a mode of conviction (salt in a wound) or even the cause of thirst. Based on the context of Jesus’ audience, however, the most plausible application was salt as an agent of preservation. Salt slows down the rotting process, not by being nearby in a salt container, but by being rubbed into that which it is intended to preserve. The image of “being rubbed into the lives of others and having the lives of others rubbed into us” is a striking picture of the incarnation. An image so beautifully painted for me this past Sunday morning by the Sigo Vivo team. An image repeated on a daily basis by incarnational leaders all over the world that we at Street Psalms have the blessing of serving.

Salt and light are not moral platitudes that one can try to reach. Jesus is not suggesting or commanding that his hearers attempt to become salt and light; rather, he was commissioning them then, and us today, to live into the core DNA of our created being: “You ARE the salt of the earth, you ARE the light of the world.” Therefore, live up and into the fullness of what you have been created to be. Those who embody the heart of the beatitudes are the SALT of the earth to retard corruption, and the LIGHT of the world to reveal truth. We are commissioned to be both subtle salt and conspicuous light. As the Hernandez family so masterfully illustrates this on the streets of Guatemala City, so hundreds of Christ-following peacemakers seek to do the same in the current political landscape in the United States.

Our passage concludes with Jesus explaining how he has come not to abolish the Law or the Prophets but to fulfill them as preserving salt that preserves and light that illumines. His followers are invited to follow into the great vocation of incarnational leadership.

Joel Van Dyke
Director, Urban Training Collaborative
Guatemala City, Guatemala