Summary: By adopting the qualities of salt and light into our lives, we can make a difference to the immediate world around us.
Salt and Light
If you were to ask anyone with a basic knowledge of the Bible about the Sermon on the Mount, they would probably quote at least one of the Beatitudes. However, the Beatitudes are a part, an important part but only a part of a much larger picture that Jesus wanted to convey to his listeners. The Sermon on the Mount is believed by many, and I count myself amongst them, to be a challenge to the way the Jewish people of the time, should live their lives in a right relationship with God. I believe that the words of the sermon have an equal bearing on the way; God wants the Christians of today to live our lives. The sermon in its entirety is of so much importance, that Matthew gave it three whole chapters in his gospel. In later verses Jesus teaches on subjects such as; the law, anger, lust, divorce, retaliation and love of enemies to name just a few. However, before he teaches about any of these, he teaches in verses 13 to 16, that we Christians are to be “salt and light”. Jesus always had a reason for everything he said and did, and I believe his reason for speaking about these before any of the other teachings was because, if we can get these two important factors right in our lives, then the others should fall naturally into place.
In verse 13 Jesus says “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”
I do not know if there are any chemists in the room, but when I did chemistry at school, I was taught that the salt we use on our food cannot actually lose its saltiness. However, the salt used in those days was actually a white powder that was taken from around the Dead Sea which consisted of many elements, Sodium Chloride (pure salt) was one of them and it was probably the most soluble of the elements and as such was easily washed out. What was left, looked like and was probably still called salt but had none of the properties or taste of salt, in effect it was little more than road dust.
Why did Jesus compare his followers to salt?
Salt has long been used as a way of preserving food, especially in the days prior to refrigeration. It also has medicinal properties, widely regarded as one of the most effective antiseptics known to humankind. When I was a young boy living in a small mining village close to Doncaster, there was a Scottish doctor in the local N.H.S. practice; he had posters on his wall, warning of the dangers of smoking and an ashtray full of cigarette ends on his desk! People dreaded visiting him because no matter what the ailment was, his recommended remedy was always salt and water. This was fine for minor cuts, sore throats or mouth ulcers, but not so good for suspected appendicitis. I also recall that he prescribed the remedy to my mother, when she was suffering with morning sickness whilst carrying my sister.
Salt prevents decay; it adds flavour to food, it acts as an abrasive, in Jesus’ time it was used as payment, Roman soldiers serving in hot climates received a monthly salt ration as part of their wages, which gives us the modern day term “salary”. It was also used to seal contracts, in Numbers 18 verse 19 we read “Whatever is set aside from the holy offerings the Israelites present to the LORD I give to you and your sons and daughters as your regular share. It is an everlasting covenant of salt before the LORD for you and your offspring.” The “Covenant of salt” would have been a recognisable illustration to those listening to Jesus as he preached on the mount, but how does it apply to us today?
In sharing our experiences of Christ with others, in living our lives according to his teaching, we are passing on that covenant by being the living salt. We are the salt of the earth because, as Christians, we are called to add flavour to the lives of others; we are called to be agents in stopping the spread of moral decay, we are called to be abrasive, to speak up when we see injustice even if it means rubbing people up the wrong way. If as Christians, we cease to have any positive influence on the world around us, in our schools, workplaces or the wider community, if we see society becoming rotten but do nothing about it, if all we do is blend in with our surroundings, then we will cease to be salty and allow ourselves to be trampled underfoot as the road-dust we will have become.