Summary: Jesus calls us to be the salt - the preservative - of the earth. He warns us against losing our sense of mission. Or, considering the Greek, perhaps he is warning us against being pushed off course. But either way, his message is: stick with it.
Today, after a bit of a break, we’re returning to Jesus’ longest recorded sermon, the Sermon on the Mount.
Can you remember how Jesus starts his sermon? What was his first WORD? Jesus’ first word is ‘blessed’. ‘Blessed’ means happy or fortunate. Jesus wants us to be blessed. He is going to tell us how we can be blessed.
Jesus starts off, ‘Blessed are…’ But he doesn’t just say ‘Blessed are’ once. He says ‘Blessed are’ nine times! He is VERY emphatic! Life is going to have its ups and downs, but let’s never forget that Jesus REALLY wants us to be blessed.
What Jesus says is the way to be blessed is very different to the way that most people imagine they will be blessed. Most people think that blessing comes from what we have: from money or possessions or beauty or success. But Jesus tells us that blessing comes from attitudes and actions and from things people do to us! People who are blessed are poor in spirit. They’re meek. They mourn, they hunger and thirst for righteousness, they’re peacemakers. And they are persecuted and reviled.
These are not the things we expect. To most people these things will seem completely illogical. But Jesus is the Son of God. He knows what he’s talking about!
After Jesus has finished his list of blessings, he moves on to talk about salt and light. We could think of these as our FUNCTION in the world; what we have to do. We are to be salt and we are to be light. What does that mean? Today, I’m going to look at what it means to be salt and we’ll look at what it means to be light in a future talk.
I’m going to split this into two parts. First, we’ll look at ‘You are the salt of the earth.’ What does that mean? Then, we’ll go on to ‘if salt has lost its taste’ and look at what that means.
So, ‘You are the salt of the earth.’ What does that mean?
A few days ago I bought some bacon. This time I bought some slightly more expensive bacon. It was labelled as ‘Tesco Finest Smoked Dry Cure Back Bacon’. I’m not sure that I’ve ever bought ‘dry cure bacon’ before or ever wondered about different ways to cure bacon. But because I was preparing this talk about salt, I did.
For thousands of years, until fridges and deep freezes came along, one of the main things that salt was used for was to preserve food, especially meat. Sailors going on long journeys would take salted beef and salted pork with them. That was still quite common practice until about 100 years ago.
It’s possible to preserve meat – or we can say, to cure it – by putting it into salt water – brine. Another way of curing meat is by sprinkling salt onto it or rubbing salt into it. Then it’s ‘dry-cured’. That’s how the bacon I bought had been prepared. We can also buy salted fish – and in the past people would describe it as ‘cured fish’. The idea isn’t that the fish is ill! The word ‘cure’ is related to the word for ‘care’.
So, when Jesus was speaking about salt, he was probably thinking of it as something to preserve food, probably meat or fish. The salt kept the meat or fish from going off. That means that when Jesus says, ‘You are the salt of the earth’ it means that one of our functions as Jesus’ disciples is to keep the earth from going off; to be the preservative of the earth. Quite a task!
I’m going to make two simple points about this and then we’ll go on to the next part of what Jesus said. That is a bit trickier!
The first point is that if we are the salt of the earth then it means that the earth needs salt. It means that the earth – it could be the physical earth, it could be human society – left to its own devices, will go off. It will get smelly!
The world is presently a mixed bag. There are many amazing inventions: the light bulb, the telephone, the internet, remarkable medical treatments which improve our quality of life. But there is also war, religious conflict, poverty, food insecurity, water scarcity and unemployment. What’s the overall direction? Jesus doesn’t tell us here which direction the world is going in or will go in. We can simply infer from what he said that if the world needs God’s people to act as salt, then its natural tendency is to decay.
But other parts of the Bible do tell us the direction the world will go in. Prophecies about the time before Jesus comes back depict a world that is ‘defiled by its people’ [Isaiah 24:6]. And scientists at present – not thinking about Jesus’ coming again – also anticipate a very bleak future.