If Jesus were to look at you, what would he see? This week we continue our Lenten look at the Sermon on the Mount. These three chapters from Matthew, in many ways, contain the central teachings of Jesus: teachings on prayer and moral character. And in this morning's brief lesson, we come across his description of the gathered, and us by extension, as "salt" and "light". as he looks out over the crowd that has come to hear his teachings, these are the two images at strike him as most fitting.
"You are the salt of the earth," he says. And salt is a good thing. It adds flavor. It preserves. You don't need a lot of salt to make a difference, just a touch.
"And you are the light of the world," he continues. And light, too, is a good thing. It helps us to see in the darkness. And again, you don't need a lot of light for it to make its presence known. A room full of darkness lit with a single candle is no longer dark.
But both of these descriptions come with warnings: if salt isn't salty, then it won't do what it's made to do. In fact, it's just dirt. And if light is hidden, it fails to live up to its purpose in the world. If we are salt or light, then we have a role to play.
What if we were there among the crowds that day? When Jesus looked on us, what would he say about us? Would we, too, be salt and light? Or would some other image come to mind, calling us to a deeper purpose in our lives?
In other words, if Jesus were to look at us, what would he see?
I’m not sure, but I have a hunch that most of us probably don’t have a very accurate answer to that question. Some of us might think more highly of ourselves than we should, but most of us probably don’t think as highly of ourselves as we ought.
Maybe I’m just projecting here; I’ve got a milestone high school reunion coming up this week, one of those cultural rituals when we measure ourselves up against people we haven’t seen in decades and never give a second though to what they might think of us. But suddenly, when faced with the prospect of seeing them again, we are pulled back to our outdated roles and expectations. Have we lived up to what we were supposed to become? Or have we fallen short?
Or…is that even a measuring stick worth worrying about?
The truth, which is fairly obvious, is that what ought to matter is what Jesus sees in us. And the truth is that Jesus sees us more truly than we see ourselves; and even loves us more than we are ever capable of loving ourselves. It is Jesus who looks out on the crowds and sees salt and light, things that are not that impressive at first glance, but absolutely essential when you get right down to it. Could that be true for us, too? Could it be that, when Jesus looks at us he sees something precious, essential, even?
Maybe I’m missing the point. After all, we seem to be living in an era when Andy Warhol’s proclamation about everyone’s fifteen minutes of fame is beginning to look more like prophecy than commentary. Our culture seems particularly infected with an obsession with celebrity, and reality shows are just one symptom of our collective illness.
But then again, that’s the amazing thing about the lessons we read this morning. It’s not those who think highly of themselves who will be exalted, but those who think they are worth the least that God seems to find the most purpose in. Abram was an old man. He had no children, and the heir to his estate was a foreigner. In many ways, he had resigned himself to his fate. But when God speaks to him and tells him that there is more in store, Abram’s response isn’t, “Of course there is! It’s about time you saw my potential and recognized it for what it is!” Instead, Abram is astonished…but follows God nonetheless, trusting in these outlandish promises of descendants as numerous as the stars.
Not everyone is destined to be an Abram. And I don’t think that’s such a bad thing. But we do have a place in God’s design. And that’s what it means to be salt and light.
You see, this whole notion of what Jesus sees when he looks at us is two fold. The first is what Jesus sees in us, and whether we are willing to trust our place in Christ’s mission. For many of us, that’s enough to consider. But the second part of it is just as important, and may be just as crucial to unlocking the first. And that is this: do we see in others what Jesus sees in them?
For the past month, we have been highlighting the ministry of Journey, the men’s shelter located at Druid Hills Presbyterian. Our church and preschool families have worked together, bringing donations as we have talked about the important place this work holds. And last night, a small group of us had the opportunity to deliver the donations and have supper with the guys. And as we sat there and shared a meal, visiting with them and hearing their stories, it struck me: when Jesus looks at these guys, what does he see? And at the same time, do we even remotely see in them what Jesus does?
You see, what Journey does uniquely is to give homeless men a second chance. It’s not the end of the road for them, or a situation from which they will never bounce back; instead, it’s the beginning of the journey back to self-sufficiency. And while the residents face many challenges and obstacles, the faith that undergirds the whole enterprise is that they are as essential to the world as salt and light.
They have hit a rough spot, no doubt. For some, it’s because of a mistake they’ve made; for others, it’s because of pure bad luck and the twists and turns of a constantly shifting economy. But in a real sense, it doesn’t really matter what brought them there. Jesus doesn’t ask us to weed out the deserving from the undeserving. And fortunately for us, Jesus doesn’t see us in those terms, either. Instead, he calls us, as salt and light, to feed the hungry and house the homeless.
When we got to Journey last night, I saw a familiar face in one of the residents. I’ll call him Jake. And as Jake and I caught up over dinner, he shared the amazing news with me that he is moving into his own place within a month. Because of Journey, and because of, in no small part, the things that members of this church have done for him, he has been able to get desperately needed medical attention. He has been able to find steady employment, and to save enough to be able to get back out on his own.
And as much as these things matter, the most important thing of all is the reminder that we are not out there on our own. When Jake leaves Journey and moves into his own place, he won’t be alone. He will continue to be surrounded and uplifted by the same relationships that have accompanied him during his time there. Not only that, but what Jesus sees in Jake is that very same light that has shone through others to illumine his path.
So I ask you again: If Jesus were to look at you, what would he see? Can you trust and believe that you are essential to him and his purposes?