Matthew 5:13-20, salt, light, and law
Matthew 5:13-20 comprises the following sections:
- Matthew 5:13, foolish salt;
- Matthew 5:14-16, the light of the Father's wisdom;
- Matthew 5:17-18, Every jot and title;
- Matthew 5:19-20, Kingdom commands.
Salt, Light, and Law
The fifth of the Ten Commandments commands us to honour our parents. The Bible teaches that a child can do this by accepting their paternal authority and paying attention to their wisdom. That way the child begins to espouse their family’s values. When it works well, this process can ensure that godly values are passed from generation to generation and that children enter adulthood well equipped to meet life’s challenges and contribute to the well-being of the community in which they live.
God refers to his chosen people as ‘his Son’ and they considered him their Heavenly Father. Therefore, the same process through which God intended people to assimilate the wisdom of their parents, he also envisaged as the mechanism for mankind to assimilate divine wisdom. Hence, some Rabbis would later decide that honouring your parents was the greatest commandment, whilst Jesus himself spoke of the need for adults to become like children in their attitude to their divine parent.
It is through its relationship to God’s words and his wisdom that this passage is tied into the fifth commandment. The priesthood were supposed to act as an embodiment of their Heavenly Father’s values and a mouthpiece for them. Their sanctuary in Jerusalem was supposed to be a shining beacon of God’s wisdom, continuously available to all who sought it. The nations leaders, priests and teachers were therefore charged (through a ‘covenant of salt’) to ensuring that Israel understood their Father’s decrees (the Law).
The bracketing of these verses between two highly structured sections, the Beatitudes and the Antitheses, seems designed to highlight this passage. Seven blessings on those who have obeyed their Heavenly Father, balanced by six corrections for those whose behaviour has failed to take account of their Heavenly Father’s nature. Between which, at the heart of the process, lies the Law. The seven/six division itself being significant, for seven and six were symbolic numbers, associated with perfection and imperfection accordingly.