You are the Salt of the Earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?
Matthew 5: 13
It strikes us as an odd saying, this business of salt losing its saltiness. Salt can’t lose its saltiness; at least, not salt as we know it. Salt is salt and has no quintessence of saltiness it can lose. I know from personal experience (forgetting the salt in a batch of cookies and doubling what was called for in chili!) just what a difference the right amount of salt can make in a dish.
Most scholars of the New Testament agree that what passed as salt in first century Palestine was likely an impure mixture of earth that contained enough salt to act as a purifier, preservative and seasoning. It is easy to imagine that such a mixture could have its saltiness leached out of it if exposed to damp or wet conditions.
Of the synoptic Gospels, all three contain this warning of Jesus’ to be on guard against salt that has lost its useful function. Matthew adds the preface that identifies Jesus’ followers as ‘the salt of the earth”, as if to underscore the personal nature of this warning. “Beware!” he seems to suggest, “there exists the possibility that you will become useless for accomplishing the very purpose for which you exist!”
Todd Johnson, of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Center for the Study of Global Christianity, estimates that over the past one hundred years, followers of Jesus have made up about one-third of those of us living on Earth. I cannot imagine any recipe that would call for one third of the ingredients being salt! When Jesus offered this warning, however, his followers were but a hand full amidst the roughly 230 million alive at the time. Even if we assume that the ‘you’ Jesus had in mind was all of Israel, they would measure just about .004% of the world’s population. These figures are much more in keeping with the ratio of salt to other ingredients in recipes we are familiar with.
Seasoning, however, is not the only purpose that salt serves. It is also a purifier and a preservative, and to fill these functions it is applied in much greater quantities. Cleaning wounds and preventing decay requires a significantly higher concentration of salt; different tasks call for different quantities. But regardless of the application, Jesus’ concern is not with quantity but quality.
I wonder, how many of us followers of Jesus are fulfilling the function for which we are called? How many of us have retained our saltiness?
Our chapel theme for this spring is Salt and we will be talking together about what difference followers of Jesus ought to be making in the world.