You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. (Matthew 5:13)
We have now finished the beatitudes and we will continue with the rest of the ‘sermon on the mount’ but it is important to see that the thought process of this sermon follows through. The ‘blessed’ people who have fully embraced what it is to be; poor in spirit, merciful, pure in heart, peacemaking etc become people who affect society in a good way. We are not to be people who hide away in our little communities, unable to make any difference to the world around us. No, we are to be like salt which affects everything it comes into contact with.
But what did Jesus mean though when he said “we are the salt of the earth?”
Let’s look at some of the properties of salt and see how it is similar to how we can mirror its effectiveness.
(1) To season
I know it is not considered fashionable at the moment to put too much salt on our food, but just the right amount of salt can really bring out the flavour of a dish. Salt brings an interest, a quality. It stops things being bland and insipid. Our lives can bring an interest and excitement of something more than the mundane.
(2) Thirst making
There’s a reason why bartenders put free salty peanuts on a bar. They sell a lot more drinks. As we live out the joy of life that only Jesus gives, we create a thirst in others that craves a life that they cannot attain by anything else. They cannot put their finger on it, but Christians who are living out the beatitudes in an authentic way, have something they want.
Ever heard the phrase ‘rubbing salt into the wounds’? Well salt is an antibacterial agent so it helps to fight infection. Throughout history salt was used as an anaesthetic on new born babies. This practice was referred to in the bible in Ezekiel 16:4. Also in the bible is the account of Elisha who put salt into water to sanitise it (2 Kings 2:20-21). As Christians we can halt the infection of sin in our society. As we bring love and peace and reconciliation we help to stop the bacteria of sin spreading.
Before fridges and freezers were invented, salt was used universally to prevent food from going off. Meat was salted so that it could keep for a long time. Our presence in society should have a preservative effect on society and help to fight off sin’s decay.
Salt as a fertilizer is pretty unheard of now, but it was much more common in Jesus’ time and it could well have been this use that Jesus was mainly referring to.
There are 3 main points to make when considering salt as a fertilizer;
- Salt would need to be scattered evenly. If it was just dumped in lumps it could destroy the chemical composition of the soil. Jesus knew that His disciples would be scattered far and wide when persecution came and actually that would make them far more effective. If they remained huddled in one place, they could not fertilize the soil properly.
- Secondly, a fertilizer does not exist for itself; it exists for the sake of the soil it is feeding. As Christians we exist to bless and nourish our communities. If we didn’t, God might as well remove us, but instead He has a purpose for us to be a source of goodness to all around us.
- The third aspect is that we are to be different to the soil we are feeding. As Christians we are distinctive. This leads on to the warning in the second part of today’s verse. If we lose our distinctiveness we are no good to anybody.
It is actually difficult for the table salt we know today as Sodium Chloride to lose its saltiness as it is a very stable mineral. But Jesus was not speaking from a scientific viewpoint. He was using a metaphor which was a common way that Jesus communicated. The most common explanation for Jesus’ warning against salt losing its saltiness was that the salt in His time would often be mixed with other impure minerals, rendering the salt properties ineffective. Salt would of course also be ineffective if it was watered down. The message is clear to those Christians who compromise and mix their faith with all sorts of other beliefs.
I’ll leave you with a thought provoking exert from Francis Chan’s book ‘crazy love’ who spoke about this very issue;
“God is saying that lukewarm, half-hearted following is useless, it sickens our souls. How would you like to hear the Son of God say, ‘You would ruin manure? … Lukewarm and uncommitted faith is completely useless. It can’t even benefit manure.“