At A Time Like This We Need Salt

Have you ever said that someone is a salt of the earth sort of person?

It really isn’t a phrase we hear that often anymore – but it has always been a top-tier compliment. For ages, it was used to describe someone as a real-stand up sort of person. The sort of person that could be counted on to do the right thing in a difficult situation;  they didn’t quit or whine; they were reliable, moral, and of strong character. They were people who did what needed to be done and their word was their bond. Salt of the earth sort of folks were solid, stand-up, dependable.

When it was a bit more common in our vernacular, people used salt of the earth to 0_OZpJNGmNWhr2uR1Gdescribe people from all walks of life and all sorts of religious and non-religious backgrounds – but – interestingly enough – salt of the earth was a phrase Jesus used it to describe His people. In Matthew 5:13, Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth.”

I’ve always wondered just how many Christian folks have ever thought of themselves as the salt of the earth. Not many, I imagine – and that’s unfortuante because – given the state of things right now – salt of the earth sort of folks is exactly what is needed.

Think about salt for a moment. Today it is everywhere and so we may not fully appreciate what it meant for Jesus to call his people salt of the earth in the first century. In antiquity, salt was highly valued because of its multiple uses. It was an incredibly important commodity – and it often meant life or death.

First of all, salt was a food preservative. Think about how much we rely on refrigeration. Think about how much we rely on being able to put food in sealed containers. When the whole pandemic started, lots of us rushed to the store – and bought food that we could store so that – just in case – we’d have enough to eat.

We depend on refrigeration and being able to seal our food off from rot and decay. In antiquity, salt was needed to help preserve food from rot and decay. Without salt, people would have had a difficult time preserving food. But salt – in those days – was literally a life saver.

You are the salt of the earth – Jesus said.

Given that we know Jesus is using a metaphor – given that he’s not talking about literal salt – given that part of salt’s function was to protect against rot and decay – what do you think Jesus meant when he said you (as his people) are salt of the earth?

In antiquity, like today, salt was used as an antiseptic as well as a preservative. Even then, people knew that salt has healing qualities and the body needs a certain degree of salt in the right balance. Today hospitals use saline to reduce some types of bacteria, to clean wounds, and to clean out IV catheters. In antiquity, salt was used to treat wounds, stomach issues, skin issues, and a variety of other ills. In fact, in 2 Kings 2:20, Elisha takes some salt and throws it into a polluted spring, and “heals” it – purifies it. We use salt in a similar way with water purification.

In antiquity – in the first century – folks knew that salt was a life saving preservative that fought off rot and decay and they knew that salt had healing qualities.

Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth.”

In antiquity, salt was highly valuable. In some cultures, it could be used as a form of currency – to some extent. People were sometimes paid in salt. In those days – soldiers and workers were given a salt allowance – which is where some believe we got the saying “that person is worth their salt.”

Salt was highly valued because it was highly useful. It kept away rot and decay. It brought healing. It restored people to health. It was necessary for life. It was valued like gold.

Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth.”

Salt was – and still is – valuable – and important because of all that it does for humanity. Its value is felt in every part of society. Life probably can’t be sustained without some measure of salt. It is important for perserving and protecting from rot and decay. It is important and valuable because it brings healing. It is valued and important because it does so much for humanity.

Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth.”

Again, I wonder how many Christian folks think of themselves as salt of the earth – especially in times like these – when cities are bracing and recovering from protests and riots related to the tragic death of George Floyd – when racial injustices continue to ravage the lives of people – when communities are divided by rhetoric, prejuidice, biogtry, ignorance – I wonder how many Christian folks think of themselves as salt of the earth?

But Jesus said that his people – the church – are the salt of the earth – which means that God’s people are to be about the work of preserving against rot and decay and we are people that bring healing. In fact, our value as God’s people in the world is bound up in our function as salt – at least that’s what Jesus seems to be saying when he compares his people to salt.

What use is salt if it isn’t used? Salt, like coffee, is made to be poured – to be used. It doesn’t do anyone any good to simply be stored away. It is made to function. Its value comes from its proper use. Jesus even gave a warning about salt that isn’t used is really not worth anything at all. Jesus said, “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.”

Salt is valuable because of how it is intended to be used in the world. It has a role to play – a job to do – and if it isn’t used for the job it was created for – it is obsolete, insignifanct – and people treat it with contempt or see it as utterly useless. One theologian noted, “Blessing is given to believers so that they will be blessings – to the world; salt is made salt in order to be salty in food. We are put on notice that while it is from nothing (gratis) that we have been made salt, it is not for nothing (frusta). We are to live for other people. Christians, we learn here for the first time explicitly, are in danger if they do not live as Christians. This is what is meant by the warning’s sad conclusion, ‘salt is absolutely useless except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.’ Here is deserved persecution. In the world, this ‘persecution’ often takes the form of simple contempt or of complete disinterest” (Frederick Dale Bruner, The Christbook: A Historical/Theological Commentary).

Jesus said to his people – then and now – “You are the salt of the earth.” Jesus’ people are valuable to the world because we are to preserve the world from rot and decay and we are to bring healing to the wounded and weary. And that is exactly what our community needs now. It needs the church to be salt of the earth – to protect our communities from the rot and decay of injustice and racism and wickedness and to bring healing.

May all those who profess the name of Jesus be the Salt that the world needs.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s