Jesus gives a speech in Matthew that essentially summarizes how we should live as Christians on a daily basis. He draws attention to the differences between Christians and non-Christians, the church and the larger society, and the influence Christians should have on their surroundings. He used the metaphors of Salt and Light to explain everything. I was curious as to why He used salt specifically rather than, say, sugar, and I wanted to know why.
It turns out I am not the only one, different theologians have different ideas about what “salt” means in Jesus’ sermon. Some believe that the colour white represents the purity of the justified believer. Others argue that the flavouring properties of salt indicate that Christians are to add divine flavour to the world. Others believe that Christians are to sting the world with rebuke and judgment in the same way that salt stings an open wound. Another school of thought holds that Christians are to create a thirst for Christ by acting as salt.
But what qualities of salt compelled the Lord to use it in this context? Salt is used as a flavour improver because at low concentrations it will reduce bitterness, but increase sweet, sour and umami – desirable for sweet recipes. At higher concentrations it suppresses sweetness and enhances umami, which is good for savoury things. Do you see what Jesus did here? It also serves another important function, salt prevents decay. When Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth,” He meant that all of His disciples were to act as preservers, halting the moral decay of our sin-infected world.
Because you are the salt of the earth, you play an important role. Christians, like salt, help to preserve what is good in society. It is our responsibility to have the same effect on society as salt by upholding morality in the face of moral decline and improving the lives of others. Who is left to elevate humanity to a higher level of morality, conduct, and decency if the salt meant to uphold a higher standard in this fallen world is behaving exactly like the world? Who will hold the light of the gospel? We have been tasked with flavouring this planet. This is Christ’s desire for His body. Let us rise above the world’s strife and pursue the superior realm that we find in Christ. Jesus is to be the source of our influence, and we are to impact the world through him.
Salt must come into contact with the meat or fish being preserved for it to be effective. We must be present where we work, live, and even online in order to be effective. Because the dominant culture does not necessarily like us, this creates a conflict and we might be persecuted. In Matthew 5:10-12, Jesus acknowledged the reality of persecution. However, we must maintain our “saltiness,” or uniqueness, in our interactions with the culture. We must strike a delicate balance.
Side Note: Did you know that Salt was so valuable that soldiers in the Roman army were sometimes paid with salt instead of money. Their monthly allowance was called “salarium” (“sal” being the Latin word for salt). This Latin root can be recognized in the French word “salaire” — and it eventually made it into the English language as the word “salary.”