5th Sunday after the Epiphany

by Crossings

Matthew 5:13-20
(Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany)
analysis by Carolyn Schneider

13You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. 14You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. 17 Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or prophets; I have not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

DIAGNOSIS: Dim and Tasteless

Step 1–Initial Diagnosis: Unfulfilling
Jesus calls his disciples the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Their good deeds are supposed to season people in order to bring out the best in them. By their actions for the sake of their neighbors, they are to be true to their nature as sodium chloride and expend themselves in order to enhance their neighbor’s flavor, so that their neighbors are pleasing (tasteful) to God. If they do this, then they light up God’s face for people to see, since God is a salty God in the same way-giving us many things to preserve us, including good guidelines for bringing out the best in us. The disciples are living, lighted signs of the enduring covenants God has made with his people, and their actions are to reflect well on God. But do they? We latter-day disciples know that what we do usually reflects poorly on God and does not lead others to speak well of God. In us the covenant looks broken, the Law unfulfilled, the neighbor unloved, God unglorified, the world no better, the salt ineffective, the light obscured.

Step 2–Advanced Diagnosis: Emptied
How is it possible for salt not to be salt, or for light not to be light? It isn’t. That may be a clue to how serious our problem has become. We are emptied of taste and light. Our very nature betrays God’s plan and hope for us. And try as we might to now keep the law, there is no hope for our spiritual recovery.

Step 3–Final Diagnosis: Abolished
But, truth to tell, we have abolished the law and the prophets, behaviorally and spiritually. We have decided for ourselves what is best for ourselves. But we ought not think that we are the only ones abolishing. God will make sure that our own versions of salt and light do not see the light of day, or poison the tastebuds of others. So for us, we will be thrown out into the garbage heap and trampled under foot.

PROGNOSIS: Bright and Salty

Step 4–Initial Prognosis: Exceeding Righteousness
The Law remains in force until it is perfectly fulfilled and everything it requires has taken place. But how can this ever be, since the demands of the Law only make things worse? Jesus is so audacious as to say that fulfilling the Law is precisely what he came to do. And in identifying with us, he himself would be taken out to be thrown on the garbage heap. Yet, he would be that “exceeding righteousness” for us all.

NOTE: Matthew is careful to note how the scriptures take flesh in Jesus’ life. Jesus’ birth, mobility and home are all a fulfillment of the prophets’ words (1:22-23; 2:4-6, 14-15, 23; 4:13-16). Jesus is baptized to “fulfill all righteousness” (3:13-15), after which he resists the devil by upholding the promise of the Word (4:3-11). Jesus heals the sick and sinful and teaches in the way that the prophets hoped (8:16-17; 12:15-21; 13:34-35). Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and into the temple were an enactment of prophecy (21:4, 12-16). In his role as Messiah, he met with rejection, betrayal and abandonment (the “garbage heap”), both by his disciples and by God, as the scriptures had expressed earlier (21:2-44; 26:24, 31, 47-56; 27:46).

Step 5–Advanced Prognosis: Filled
Jesus is a Light that will not remain covered, a city set on a hill for all to see. He has become our righteousness, to rejuvenate our lives with his light and to put the salt of his promise deep within our hearts. While the law has not run its full course for us, we do carry the promise already that, in Christ, we possess the “exceeding righteousness” as our own.

Step 6–Final Prognosis: Fulfilling
So we become doers and teachers of the One whose righteousness has given us light and salt. We need not (dare not) dilute God’s law, but we do have a promising Word to bear to all whose lives have become bland and blind. God’s salty Law is strong, but God’s bright and salty Son is stronger still-and able to replenish the earth.


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