Matthew 5:13: Salt of the Earth

Read: Matthew 5:13

Salt had many uses in the ancient world. It was used to purify food, as a catalyst in fire, as a preservative for food, for the processing of leather, mummification, smelting metals, medicines, and as a way to make food more savory. While salt was a highly useful commodity, it was also hard to come by in some parts of the world so it also made it a valuable commodity. Interestingly, the word salt in English comes from the Latin word for money that was used to pay soldiers, which was salt. The phrase “worth his salt” has its origins in the practice of paying soldiers in salt. It was often widely traded from parts of the world that had a more abundant supply of salt with areas of the world that did not have as much salt. Israel with its proximity to the Dead Sea made it a supplier of salt, where it can literally be picked up off the ground.

The Old Testament underscores the use of salt as a preserving and purifying agent too. The Law prescribed it as an ingredient in sacrifices made to God as symbols of purity (Leviticus 2:13 , Exodus 30:34-38, Ezekiel 43:18-27). Elisha also used salt as an agent in his miracle when he purified water (2 Kings 2:19-22). The Old Testament on a few occasions mentions a “covenant of salt” (Leviticus 2:13, Numbers 18:19, 2 Chronicles 13:5). Given that salt was used daily in food preparation, in sacrifices, and also as a preservative, these covenants of salt were by implication enduring and perpetual covenants that God had made.

When Jesus declares that his hearers are the salt of the earth, it is hard to know to exactly what Jesus was referring. But against the backdrop of the Old Testament he was probably talking about the useful, preserving nature of salt. Jesus adds to this, saying that when salt loses its saltiness, it it is thrown out and trampled in. Salt ancient times had a number of other minerals mixed with it, and when the actual salt was dissolved by water, it would leave a chalky residue, which as the salt without its saltiness. It was discarded because it wasn’t good for anything.

Jesus is saying that people that live according to his ways are like salt in that they have an enduring, purifying, preserving effect on the world, but those that reject his ways are of no use. Christians in light of this are called to be preserving and purifying agents in the cultures in which they live. Often times Christians want to retreat because of the evil around them and isolate themselves from the world, but the call is to be in the world proclaiming the good news of Jesus, doing good deeds (this is the point of the parable concerning light!) , and shaping the culture to reflect Christian values.

Lord, help me to be the salt of the earth where I live!

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