March 9, 2012: The Seventeenth Day of Lent

March 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how will it be made salty again? It is good for nothing anymore, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.” ~ Matthew 5.13 ~

Having instructed us to the basic realities of the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus will address in the next few verses the role that citizens of the Heavenly Kingdom play in the fallen world. He uses metaphors to compare his disciples to salt and light. As we saw several times in the Beatitudes, we need to look back at a first century Jewish understanding of these things so that we can capture a clearer understanding of Jesus’ teaching.

Salt has always been used as a flavor enhancer, and first-century Hebrews would have used it in this way. However, in a world without refrigerators or freezers, salt also came in handy as a food preservative. It had great value. Many used it during this time as payment or for barter. In Jewish teaching, salt was a metaphor for wisdom. If one’s words were “salty,” they were worth hearing. (Unlike today, when “salty” language means something quite different!)

Ancient salt had a catch, though; pure sodium chloride could not be found. What Christ refers to here actually was a mix of minerals mined from the Dead Sea. While predominantly salty, this composition of minerals could actually lose its sodium chloride when exposed to moisture. “Salt losing its saltiness” would not have been an uncommon idea in the time of Christ, even though it sounds silly in our day. When this took place, only the remaining inert minerals would be left behind; the whole mix would be worthless. It was not possible to “re-salt” it. The only thing to do with it would be to throw it away. Christ uses a vivid picture here: the worthless minerals are poured into the street, where passerby trample them.

So what does Christ mean when he calls his disciples the “salt of the earth?” Matthew Henry makes this insight: “Mankind, lying in ignorance and wickedness, were as a vast heap, ready to putrify; but Christ sent forth his disciples, by their lives and doctrines, to season it with knowledge and grace.” Ambassadors of the Kingdom have great value in a world that needs Christ.

However, we must take care to retain our “saltiness;” we must remain oriented to the Kingdom of Heaven. We find our value as Christians in Christ. If not in him, then where? Nothing compares. Our quest to base our value in things outside of Christ often leaves us feeling trampled and disappointed.

The good news is that Christ loves and welcomes us wherever we are. If you are not salt now, join the family and let the Creator do something the laws of nature cannot: re-salt your unsaltiness. As we saw in the Beatitudes, Christ will continue this process in us; he will continually purify us and make us more potent for his purposes.  Are you basing your value in something other than the Kingdom of Heaven? What is it, and how does it compare to Christ? How does Christ give you opportunities to be salt in your world?

Lord Christ, I find it a bit weird to think of myself as salt. But, I do see what you’re saying. Keep me from losing my saltiness; keep on purifying me and using me for your purposes. Point out to me the ways that I have become worthless to the Kingdom of Heaven. And please help me to make the most of the opportunities that you send my way to be salt in the world. Amen. 

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