February 6th: “Salt and Light”

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: Matthew 5:13-20

B. Establish translation: Review NIV, NRSV, TEV, BHS/NA26, …

C. Other texts for Year A for Sunday within January 28th and Feb 3rd

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

13 What did “salt of the earth” mean?

14 Allusion to Jerusalem, a city atop a hill, destined to be a focal point for the world.

15 Difference between holding one’s Christmas Eve candle high or close to one’s music. When everyone lifts their candle high, there is more than enough light to see one’s own music as well.

16 What do with do with the light entrusted to us each week?

17 Law and prophets required frequent sacrifices. Jesus became the perfect and final sacrifice.

18 None-the-less still guided by the law.

20 Ergo, in and of ourselves we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • Preceded by the Beatitudes; Blessings that comfort those who strive and are persecuted. This section makes these lofty phrases difficult.
  • Verses 21-30 amplify Jesus’ exhortation to live righteously.

F. Are there any significant variants in the manuscripts? Why?

  • Some manuscripts amend verse 22 to read: “… if you are angry with a brother or sister without cause, …” The addition is easy to justify as other Scripture allows for righteousness anger. The omission, although only one word in Greek, matches the flavor the adjacent passages.

II. Literary Study.

A. What is the history of the text? Who wrote it? When? In what social context? What Historical/Religious/Sociological factors influenced its writing?

C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms

  • What did “salt of the earth” mean?

D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?

  • Exhortation! The word “you” beginning of each saying is redundant in Greek, thus separating the faithful from everyone else who might hear this message.

III. Question the text.

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Center of Gravity: Encouragement to be salt and light, with sharpened commandments to illustrate that doing the law is not enough.
  • Emotional Center: Who and what we are shines before everyone! Thus we must strive to reflect the light of God.

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • Jesus warns against relaxing commandments, and tightens them to impossibility.Doing one’s best is not enough!

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

  • Story of church built without lights. Each family given a lamp to bring home after worship and back to church the following Sunday. What did you do with your light this week?

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

M. Eugene Boring (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “The Gospel of Matthew,” Abingdon, 1995) notes the multiple layers of meaning in the word “salt”: sacrifice, loyalty (Sharing salt was synonymous with eating together) purification, seasoning, and preservation. He suggests that Matthew uses earth to connote God’s creation, although losing one’s saltiness comes from adulteration. Light he notes has the purpose of letting other things be seen [as salt preserves, seasons, and purifies other things]. He opines that by verses 13-16 “Jesus strikes the death blow to all religion that is purely personal and private.” The disciples “do not generate the light any more than salt generates its own saltiness. … They have been lit not for their own sakes, but for the sake of the world.”

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

— Get out into the world and be the light of Christ, seasoning and purifying the earth.

B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

— Private, personal faith is an illusion. True faith challenges the world.

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