5th Sunday after the Epiphany – Vicar Ferguson
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Our Lord in today’s Gospel continues the Sermon on the Mount. Last week we heard the
Beatitudes, and we continue today with the Salt of the Earth passage, and not abolishing the Law
but fulfilling it.
The first question that needs to be asked is “does salt ever loose its taste?” Our Lord is
using salt as an illustration and so if, like me, you are unsure if salt looses its saltiness the first
thing to do is figure that out. In the brief research I did on salt and its shelf life I found that
depending on the quality of salt, salt can lose its saltiness. If there are impurities in the salt, those
impurities can cause the salt to lose it salty qualities. Then at that point the salt is no longer doing
what it is supposed to do, and so it loses all worth. It can’t be used as seasoning nor as a
preservative; it can only be thrown out and used as road gravel. Pure salt can’t go bad, however.
It is salt through and through and doesn’t change. When our Lord says, “You are the salt of the
earth” he is comparing us with salt, he is using a metaphor. Salt is salt. If it ceases to be salt then
it is not useful for anything. So if salt is salt what are we?
In matters of spirituality, we are lacking. We are sinners, this is true. When we accept this
fact and do not put our own merits before God, we can understand the grace of God who sent his
Son to fulfill the law and the prophets. Christ did not come to abolish the law or the prophets.
Our lawlessness and transgressions of the will of God are still as damning as ever. When we say
that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. Or to put it in the negative,
when we say that we are sinners, we understand ourselves and the truth is in us. Nothing in the
law or the prophets has changed. We are still supposed to love the Lord our God, and to love our
Neighbor as ourselves. No letter, not even the smallest stoke of a pen, has or will be changed.
What is the purpose of the Law? Is it to put hoops in front of us so that we can jump
through them and gain eternal rest? If the law and the prophets were a series of feats done in life
to make salvation attainable then Christ’s fulfillment of the law was not all that impressive. If we
could work our way to heaven then Christ is only a really nice guy who taught people to love
each other and themselves. If we relax the law and lower the bar of righteousness so that we can
be perfect we also minimize the work of the Almighty Son of God who alone fulfilled the law.
The ESV in verse 19 reads, “Whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments
….” The King says, “Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments…”. I
want to draw your attention to one difference here. The ESV says relaxes and the Kings says
breaks. Why are they translated differently? Because the Greek means both to break and relax.
The Greek means to loosen and it means to destroy. It means to relax and to break. To relax the
strictness of the Law of God is to break it, and the best way to break the Law of God is to take
out it’s teeth and make it gum you to death. The law is not meant to be easy.
Our Lord continues, “but whoever does them (that is the Commandments of God) and
teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” Therefore if we do the
commandments of God and teach other to do them we will be called great in the Kingdom of
Heaven. There we go. problem solved. If we keep the law of God we will be called great in the
Kingdom of heaven. But we have not, do not, and can not keep the law. We transgress the will of
God frequently and so the law again shows us our depravity. It shows us that we cannot save
ourselves from the just punishments of sin.
So what is the purpose of the Law? It shows us our need of a savior. Only Jesus could
fulfill the Law. Only the Righteous Son of God could take up human flesh and do what the law
requires of us. Only Jesus does the commandments of God perfectly and teaches other to do so.
The scribes and the Pharisees that Jesus mentions at the end of our Gospel represent people who
by all appearance live a God pleasing life. They study the Law and they take great pains to put
on a good show. But our Lord tells us that if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven our
righteousness has to exceed theirs. Their keeping up appearances is not sufficient to merit eternal
Why is Salt salty? Why is salt what it is? Because God says so. Salt cannot by its own
power remain, but it is by the will of God that salt is salt. It is by divine fiat, or command that
Salt is what it is. So too is it with us. We are the salt of the earth because of God’s gracious will
to act among us. The Light of the world that we shine with is not our own, but rather the
reflection of the Divine light that we have received from Jesus. We hunger and thirst for
righteousness because we do not have any and we see Jesus abounding in righteousness.
In the third Stanza of the Hymn of the Day we sang, “Thy strong Word bespeaks us
righteous, Bright with Thine Own holiness”. It is only by the declaration of God that anything
good can be found in us. This declaration is not an infusion of grace so that we might stop
sinning, or at least slow down. This declaration is the righteousness of Christ being attributed to
his people. Hence we are the salt of the earth, because God has made us so. We are lights in the
world, because the light of God has dawned upon us. It is impossible for the light of God to be
overcome by darkness.
Christ did not come to abolish the Law and the prophets. He came to fulfill the Law and
the prophets. The work of Christ here on earth is the fulfillment of the Law and the prophets.
This is the point of Epiphany. We have seen Christ fulfill the words of the prophets who came
before him. We have seen Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We
have seen Jesus fulfill the Law and the prophets. This is Epiphany, a revelation of the Divine Son
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.