We seem to find it easy to point out what is going wrong. Whether it is in the wider world, or locally to us, we know what we don’t like. We complain, and gather people who make the same sort of complaints, but don’t often do anything positive.
Jesus will not let us get away with that. “You are the salt of the earth . .” he says at the beginning of today’s gospel (Matthew 5:13-20). Salt was vital when it preserved food – and Christians are still meant to stop things going rotten. They should, even in small amounts, prevent corruption and decay. Of course salt is less popular in diets now, as Christian ideas seem to be in some parts of society. We might want to moan about the cost – in broken families, or lives endangered by addictions, but again, Jesus won’t encourage moaning. If we are to be salt, we have to preserve what is good.
“You are the light of the world . . ” It is so much easier to criticise than to live a better way. But that is our calling. Be light, show the way, bring hope – not to make a personal reputation or build an ego, but to bring glory to God. This is not easy reading, but an invitation to be part of the solution.
God has been working on that solution for a long time. Jesus will build on Old Testament Law and prophecy – but will avoid some of the tradition that has build up around religion. He is more faithful to God and the promises, yet heavily critical of those confident of their own goodness. How can we hope to do better than those known for their devotion to “professional religion”? Only by knowing our need of forgiveness and grace. “Religious observance” is not enough. We have to let God do what we cannot – forgive, transform our motivation, make us part of the family together bringing light and hope.