One of the most amazing natural phenomenons in the world can be found in the tropical waters off the southern coast of Puerto Rico. Phosphorescent Bay is inhabited by millions of single cell plankton. Each emits a harmless blue spark of light when the water is disturbed. On a moonless night, miles from the glare of coastal neon, submerged divers produce an illumination that would rival any Coast Guard search and rescue operation.
Jesus tells His followers in side-by-side verses (Matthew 5: 13 and 14) that they are to be BOTH salt and light in the world. We rarely find both these elements together in nature, or in Christ-followers, for that matter. When we do, it’s a phenomenon, like Phosphorescent Bay. Perhaps the reason for this anomaly is that the properties and functions of salt and light are very different.
Some Christians become the lights of the world, dispelling darkness, revealing God’s presence where it would otherwise not be seen, and guiding pilgrims by exemplary living. Other saltier types rub up against the raw elements of society, preserving what’s good, giving flavor to hopeless people, changing and restoring the their lives. However, it is rare to see all of these qualities in the same person at the same time.
It seems to me that the “light” Christians are usually the ones who like to stay close to their Power source. They like and need to stay clean, their lamps unclouded by the cultural dirt all around them. So they shine from afar, on top of the hill. Whether from experience or fear, they know themselves and they know the dangers and temptations that lurk when they get too close to unsympathetic non-believers.
But, in order for salt to be effective it must come in close contact to the thing it desires to affect. It must be infused or ingested into the very flesh and fiber of that entity it’s trying to help. “Salt” Christians connect with their culture. They not only know their unbelieving neighbors, they enjoy their company. They are there for those trapped in addictions, and they minister to the suicidal and depraved.
Other environments where salt is needed are quite different from the world of crime and addiction. The materialistic American culture can also be the downfall for salty Christians. Slowly and subtly “salt” Christian grow accustomed to the comfort and extravagance of their friends–like the frog in the kettle where the water temperature is gradually raised to boiling. The frog adjusts to the change until it’s too late to escape.
But, how to be BOTH salt and light? Let’s go back to Puerto Rico and Phosphorescent Bay where those single cell plankton thrive in the salty waters of the Atlantic. The light that they produce when they are stirred up by a row boat or raindrops is not only magnificent but powerful. It can be seen from satellites in outer space. Perhaps the plankton possess the answer.
They live in community. These particular single cell creatures are not dispersed across the ocean, but rather they are found clustered together in a few locations. They need each other in order to glow when their salty environment is troubled.
Our culture needs to see Jesus. Our lights can illuminate Him in the darkness. Our salt can be the “Balm of Gilead” (Jeremiah 8: 22) to heal and soothe our world. Christians need to reach out together in serving others, restoring the broken and in sharing God’s love, because we need each other in order to shine, while living in life’s brine.