Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage. —Matthew 5:13, The Message (Jesus speaking)
Season all your grain offerings with salt, to remind you of God’s covenant. Never forget to add salt to your grain offerings. —Leviticus 2:13, NLT
In Jesus’ time, Roman soldiers often received their wages partly in salt. The Latin term for this was salarii—”sal” means “salt”—the same word used today when we speak of receiving our salary.
Salt was a rare, precious commodity in those days. It came from the sea, from a time-consuming process of evaporation and collection. Now that we have discovered salt deposits under the earth, technology allows us to mine salt by the millions of tons. Salt is cheap and plentiful enough that we even throw it on our roads in the winter.
The people of Jesus’ day would have been aghast at such a practice. Salt was life. Without refrigeration, salt was used to preserve fish for eating months after it was caught. It was used to cure animal pelts and bladders for use as clothing and storage containers. Salt was used to clean wounds of infection. It was also used to flavor food.
And, as we see from the Leviticus passage, salt was sprinkled on the grain offerings made to atone for sin. In this case, salt became a symbol of the precious and everlasting covenant of God with Israel, a promise to be their God forever, and to remove the penalty for their sins on the altar of sacrifice.
From this history, our language still retains these expressions:
- He is the salt of the earth. (of great value)
- She rubbed salt in my wounds.
- He isn’t worth his salt. (salt meaning his pay, his salary)
If Jesus were to stand before Christians and Jews today, would he still say, “You are the salt of the earth”? Do we in fact bring out the “God-flavorings of this earth,” to use Eugene Peterson’s expression? Does the world see us as a precious and sought-after commodity, valuable and desirable, a community of people whose relationship with God brings great benefit to the modern world?
Or, are we like salt that has lost its saltiness, good for nothing, suitable for the trash heap, not even valuable enough to be scattered on the icy roadways in the dead of winter?
Are we sought-after?
Are we tasty? Do we make bland and uninteresting life seem alive and delicious?
Are we vital to the health and well-being of modern civilization?
And if not, what must we do to regain our “saltiness”?
The truth is, the modern world is awash in “salt-substitutes.” Medical science wonders if salt is more of a curse than a benefit to our modern diet. There are hundreds of exotic spices now readily available, tastes and aromas from the far corners of the earth, most of them far more tempting to the tongue than salt.
In the marketplace of flavorings, salt has become common. In some circles, it is has even become disreputable.
But if salt represents the covenant of God with humanity, if salt is the God-flavoring that enriches the taste of life, if salt is the hand of God at work through the people of God, bringing the tang of his presence to the world—this God who wants to be tasted and savored, who wants to dissolve himself in us and flow through our veins like sodium chloride ions, saturating every cell, permeating every organ—then the world very much needs to taste this God-salt. What salt substitute is like it?
Taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who trust in him! —Psalm 34:8, NLT (a psalm of King David)
Are we who claim to know this God full of his mouth-watering aroma and his delicious flavor?