Column – Do you want to be called great?
Published 6:29 pm Friday, February 10, 2023
My friend Paul, the college football coach, always got the same question every time a new season rolled around. Inevitably, half-a-dozen Atlanta or ACC reporters would ask him how he thought that year’s team was going to do. Eventually, someone would ask him what the record might be in that upcoming season.
He would always say, “I’m going for 12-0.” One of them who didn’t know the drill would stumble into a follow up. A new reporter would say, “So, you’re saying you could win a National Championship this year, then.”
Paul would say, “No. I didn’t say that. You asked me what I thought our record would be and I said I’m going for 12-0.” The unwitting reporter would reply. “Then, that would probably win you a National Championship. You’re saying you’re going to have a great season.”
Then, Paul explained. “No. It’s just that if you ask me that and I say I think we’ll go 9-3, then you’ve got every right to come back and ask me which three games I plan to lose. And I don’t plan to lose any of them. We just do end up losing some of them. I want us to be great every year.”
Do you want to be called ‘great’? As a church and as a person, do you want to be great? I think you do, and I do, too. I’m going to tell you why I think you want to be great in a minute.
For now, you and I should sympathize a little bit with whatever caused Jesus to do this teaching found in Matthew 5:13-20 in the first place. Or, maybe we can identify with the disciples in that other story where they were arguing about greatness. It’s just that centuries of Christian culture won’t let us admit such a thing.
In this Matthew story we might sympathize just as readily with folks for whom, at the moment anyway, they didn’t feel like they were necessarily in a position to let their light shine. They wanted to be great, but some of them understood that this greatness might not look like the conventional understanding.
Here’s why I think as individuals, and certainly churches, want to be great: because exactly none of us ever set out to be mediocre. So, exactly none of us do something, belong to something or give to something hoping it will be less than good. Great, even.
Salt. Light. What we have to do here is get out of our comfortable 21st century mindsets for a minute. So, let’s look at these elements more as Jesus and his hearers knew them.
You and I flip a switch and instantly a light comes on. Most of us haven’t known what it was to live in perpetual darkness in our entire lives. Certainly not for long, probably. If Jesus and his hearers wanted light, they had to manufacture it each and every time.
Salt could lend flavor and salt could preserve. Some people even say that salt was added to oil in their lamps. This would dry out the oil, thereby making the light a little brighter. Trouble was, salt was much harder for them to come by than for us today. If not used soon enough, salt also has an expiration date.
Said more accurately, salt can go flat and lose its ability to do what it was intended to do if it just sits around. The obvious notion is that salt is supposed to be used while it’s still good, so that good things can be their best.
As for light — he switches metaphors for a moment. Even if you tried, a city upon a hill couldn’t be hidden. In the same way, it’s preposterous to think that someone would light a lamp and then cover it up or hide it. A light covered up may as well not be on.
Did you notice that Jesus didn’t tell folks here that they might be the salt of the earth? Or that maybe someday they could potentially be the light of the world. He wasn’t talking in theory. He wasn’t talking about someday. He was talking about now.
Jesus is telling you and me that we have been given power. He was saying that as followers, we are called to use it. Turns out the cause of Christ actually needs for us to be great. We are to be salt and light for a world that can’t get enough of either.
Dr. Charles Qualls is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.