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)]
Today, when someone is called the “salt of the earth,” the speaker probably means he or she is a dependable, unpretentious and honest person—someone of moral integrity. That is well and good as far as it goes, but Jesus meant more than that when He called us to be “the salt of the earth.”
Nowadays, salt is inexpensive and a 26-ounce box of generic table salt cost less than 2 cents an ounce. Even if you wanted to go gourmet with some pink Himalayan table salt, you’d only pay about 25 cents per ounce. In ancient times, however, salt was so precious that Roman soldiers received their pay in it. When that became cumbersome, they received an allowance for its purchase. Called salarium argentum and meaning salt money, salarium remains in the English language as the word “salary.” Slave traders often bartered salt for slaves which gave rise to the expression that someone useless isn’t “worth his salt.” It was the preciousness of salt that made it so meaningful when making covenants or treaties in the ancient world. When Jesus said we are the “salt of the earth,” He meant we were as valuable as this precious commodity of the 1st century. But, aside from being valuable, what other qualities could Jesus have had in mind with His metaphor?
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. In ancient times, salt water was considered a natural antiseptic. Used to clean wounds and prevent infection, newborns were bathed in salt water. As salt of the earth, we can do our part in preventing sin’s infection.
Salt can lessen the pain of bee stings and bug bites and we, as salt, can lessen sin’s sting. 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.
A paste of salt, flour and vinegar can remove rust and polish brass and copper; as salt in God’s service, we can certainly polish up this tarnished world of ours. Salt is used to stop food decay and we, acting as messengers of the Gospel, have the ability to keep people from perishing and rotting in Hell. Salt also has destructive properties and the term “salting the earth” refers to the ancient military practice of plowing fields of enemies with salt so that no crops could be grown. In the same way, we want to sow Satan’s fields with our salt to make them barren.
In spite of warnings from our cardiologists, a certain amount of salt is essential for life. Without it, our bodies become chemically unbalanced, our muscles and nervous system cease to function, and eventually we’ll die. Without a doubt, the message of Christ’s saving grace is essential for eternal life. Even though our body fluids (blood, sweat, tears) are salty, we cannot produce salt on our own nor can we obtain salvation on our own! Salvation comes by God’s grace through faith!
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. Because it wasn’t refined, it always contained other minerals. If the sodium chloride was leached away by dampness or became fouled by dirt, what remained was without flavor and contaminated. Good for nothing, it was strewn on the roads like gravel. Like salt without flavor, disciples who don’t live out the values of the Kingdom cannot fulfill their purpose.
Moreover, no matter how valuable, pure, flavorful, or essential it is for life, salt that is kept in a sealed package is useless. Jesus wants us to get out of the box and into the world so we can spread our saltiness around in words and deeds as we share His Good News.
Salt, when dissolved in water, may disappear, but it does not cease to exist. We can be sure of its presence by tasting the water. Likewise, the indwelling Christ, though unseen, will be made evident to others from the love which he imparts to us. [Sadhu Sundar Singh]