“You are the salt of the earth …” Matthew 5:13.
“Salt of the earth.”
I always thought that expression meant “common” in a good sort of way; it was a compliment to one’s overall usefulness and humility to be called a “salt-of-the-earth” type of person.
Turns out, it is a compliment, but not in the secular (non-God) way I had imagined. Like so many Biblical words and phrases, “salt” has more than one meaning.
In this verse of the Sermon on the Mount – Chapters 5, 6 and 7 in the Bible’s Gospel of Matthew – Jesus tells his disciples that, just as salt is an indispensable necessity of life, they, too, are indispensable to the real life – the eternal life – of humanity’s New Covenant with God.
What salt does for food, the disciples were enjoined to do for the Kingdom of God. “Salt” is a preservative that prevents spoilage – it “saves” food. As a seasoning, salt enlivens the taste of food. It would be the disciples’ role going forward to share their life in Jesus with the whole world, to be the salt of Jesus’ ministry.
Jesus isn’t the salt; Jesus is the life. It’s we Christians who are to be the indispensable salt for the Kingdom of God; to preserve and enliven the truth of Christ for the world around us. Salt also covers over the taste of tainted food – think “my sinful life.” And, salt is a cleaning component – think “the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood.”
I truly never understood the importance of salt in world history until an article showed up in my e-mail a couple of years ago noting most early wars were fought and wealth was won over salt. Whether it was access, ownership or trade routes, salt drove commerce because it was both a multipurpose substance and the only way anyone had of preserving food.
As for discipleship salt, I recently finished reading “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Prophet, Martyr, Spy,” Eric Metaxas’ superb 2011 biography of German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed late in World War II by a defeated and bitter Adolf Hitler. Now, I’m reading Bonhoeffer’s 1937 theological classic, “The Cost of Discipleship,” which goes into some detail regarding the Sermon on the Mount, salt and much else.
Bonhoeffer, who lived a full, determined and exemplary – if shortened – Christian life to the very end was the salt Jesus Christ called his disciples to be.
If you are curious what that looks like, these books are for you.