We hear in the Gospel of Matthew that Jesus said to his disciples:
You are the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13a).
But if you look at the Greek translation, we see it is translated ‘you and you alone’ are the salt of the earth.
Jesus did not tell his disciples, “You are the sugar of the earth,” but “You are the salt.”
In the ancient world salt was a valuable and scarce commodity. It was used as currency in some countries even into modern times. Jesus was paying his disciples a compliment when he called them salt.
The Roman soldiers of Jesus’ day were at times paid with salt. In fact, our word “salary” comes from the Latin word salarium which referred to the payments to the soldiers with salt. We still use the phrase saying that someone either is, or is not, “worth their salt.” The Greeks called salt divine.
There are only three elements which are mandatory for human life – air, water and salt. With those three elements, humans can live. . . maybe not luxuriously, but at least to exist.
So, if Jesus says we are the salt of the earth, what is the purpose of salt and how do we function as salt.
- First, salt is a preservative – it prevents meat from spoiling or slows down the rotting of bad meat. From the beginning of civilization, salt has been used to preserve meat to last during the winters or in hot weather.
Salt is also an antiseptic – it promotes healing and creates an environment where germs can’t live. If you have ever gotten salt in a cut, you know how much that hurts.
Salt is necessary for flavor. Without salt, food would be bland and tasteless. We all have had food prepared without salt – the first thing we do is pour salt on it before we eat.
Salt is white, symbolizing purity. Salt is one of the most natural white substances in nature. When extracted from salt water, it is so white that it dazzles in the sun.
And lastly, salt causes people to become thirsty. Think about when you have eaten a lot of popcorn or potato chips; the first thing you want is something to drink.
So if we are the salt of the earth, we must ask ourselves: Are we functioning as salt in our society?
- Are we helping people see Jesus and salvation? Are we constantly ‘rubbing salt’ in their wounds to remind them of the grace of God and salvation through Jesus?
Are we, by the way we act every day, showing that following Jesus brings full and rich life? Do we show the blessings that come with Jesus?
Are we trying to live as closely to the teachings of Jesus as we can? No one but Jesus is perfect, but we can live our lives as purely as possible. We can follow the teachings of Jesus each and every day.
Are we causing people to thirst for Jesus Christ? By our examples, are we making people yearn for life in the kingdom? Do we live differently and cause people to as what it is be a follower of Jesus?
Jesus also said that if salt has lost its taste, it is useless. What does that mean to us?
We need to be aware that if we lose our way (i.e., our saltiness), we can no longer lead others to Jesus. We become useless in causing others to follow Jesus.
So we must ask ourselves: Are we functioning as salt in our society?
Are we causing people to thirst for Jesus Christ?
We don’t have to extraordinary people to be the salt of the world. Each one of us can be that ‘salt in the wound’, that taste of life in Jesus, that example that draws people to God.
I want you to remember what Jesus says and does not say, He does not say,
“You all can be the salt of the earth.”
Nor does he say, “You all should be the salt of the earth.”
“You are the salt of the earth”
and in the Greek it is literally
“You and you alone are the salt of the earth.”
To be salt, we do not have to be spectacular
To be salt, we do not have to be sensational
To be salt, we do not have to be successful (by the world’s standards)
To be salt, we just have to affect our little corner of the world.
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 9 February 2014