You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. [Matthew 5:13 (NLT)]
Looking at the white residue on the floor mat, left there from the snow dripping off our boots, I thought of Jesus’s words about flavorless salt being thrown on the ground. The salt (NaCl) in the Ice Melt surely has lost its flavor. Moreover, it’s been adulterated by such things as potassium chloride, urea, and something called Methyl α-D-glucoside. The only thing it’s good for is being thrown on the icy walk and driveway. Although they didn’t use Ice Melt on the roads of Judea, Samaria or Galilee, flavorless or contaminated salt was thrown on the roads as a way of keeping down dust and killing vegetation.
Jesus tells us that we are the salt of the earth which means, among other things, that we are valuable. While inexpensive today, salt was so precious in ancient times that Roman soldiers received their pay in it. When that became cumbersome, they received an allowance for the purchase of salt in coin. In fact, the word salary is from the Latin “salarium” which meant salt money.
Aside from being valuable, what other qualities does salt have? Salt is a flavor enhancer and we, as Christ’s disciples can add flavor and meaning to the lives of others. Salt makes people thirsty and we, as the salt of the earth, can make people thirst for and desire Christ. Salt can lessen the pain of bee stings and bug bites and we, as salt, can lessen sin’s sting. In ancient times, salt water was considered a natural antiseptic and was used to clean wounds and prevent infection. As salt of the earth, we can do our part in preventing sin’s infection. On the other hand, salt rubbed into a wound stings and we, as salt, can rebuke and admonish the world with words that may sting. Salt can remove stains and, as Christ’s salt, we can remove the stain of sin with news of repentance and God’s forgiveness. Salt is used to stop food decay and we, acting as salt, have the ability to keep people from perishing and rotting in Hell. A paste of salt, flour and vinegar even can remove rust and polish brass and copper; as salt in God’s service, we can certainly polish up this tarnished world of ours.
In spite of its bad press, salt is essential for life. Without salt, our bodies become chemically unbalanced, our muscles and nervous system cease to function and eventually we’ll die. Even though our body fluids (blood, sweat, tears) are salty, we cannot produce salt on our own. Without a doubt, the message of Christ’s saving grace is essential for eternal life and, like salt, that salvation cannot be produced on our own. Salvation comes from God.
Finally, salt is white, the color of purity, and, as salt of the earth we should be pure, which brings us full circle to salt that has lost its saltiness or has become tainted. The salt used in Jesus’ time was obtained from salt marshes and salt lakes. That salt, when in contact with the ground or exposed to rain and sun could lose its flavor or become contaminated by other elements. Salt mixed with dust was useless for everything but throwing on the road. As disciples of Christ, like salt, we’re useless if we become corrupted by the dirt of the world.
Today, when someone is called the “salt of the earth,” the speaker probably means he or she is a good and honest person—a person of moral integrity. That is well and good as far as it goes, but Jesus requires more of us than just that. No matter how valuable or pure or essential it is for life, salt kept in a sealed package is useless. Jesus wants us to get out of the box, into the world, and spread our saltiness around in words and deeds as we share His Good News.
The human being must have salt, he cannot be without salt. Where there is no salt, nothing will remain, but everything will tend to rot. [Paracelsus (16th century doctor)]