Right on the heels of the Beatitudes Jesus says, “You are the light of the world… you are the salt of the earth”. One of the things struck me about this verse recently was this is what Jesus says we are. So often we refer to Jesus as “The Light of the World”, and he is, but here he says that we are that light and we are that salt. We are the ones who are to shine light into the darkness and who are to preserve and bring flavor to the world. The big question is, again, “so what? What does that mean?”.
A friend and colleague of mine once preached sermon unpacking the many implications of what that means and how a first-century Jewish person might have heard it. One of the things she pointed out was that salt was often used in the soil in order to make it more fertile. Think about it: Here is this land- this soil, this earth- struggling to bring forth any kind of life, and mixing salt into it helps it do just that. In that context, Jesus says, “you are the salt of the earth”. In other words, you, people of God, Body of Christ, are the salt that is mixed into the infertile soil of the world to help it bring forth life
The implications of this fascinate me. I remember when I was in college and in the campus ministry of which I was a part there was great pressure to be “salt and light” wherever we went. I remember feeling not inspired by this, but shamed by it. It felt like a biblically rooted way of pressuring people into not being bold with our faith but obnoxious with it. We were to basically to go out on campus to be “salt and light” by the spreading the “good news” that if you have not “accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior”, you would be headed toward eternal hellfire. And this was all done through a very specific and regimented format and formula. While there may be a credible stream of theology along these lines, I just don’t think this is what Jesus had in mind when he called us, “the salt of the earth”.
What can end up being behind this kind of approach to “being salt” is that we’re not actually being salt at all. We’re not trying to be one of many ingredients in a soil designed to bring forth life. With this approach, we, ourselves, are trying to be the very God that makes that life come forth. That is, while maybe well intended, we try to fabricate some kind of spiritual experience for people that only God can create. And for me, it did not bring forth life anywhere. In fact, it was squashing life out of me.
Our job is merely to be the salt. We are merely to be one part of a vast organic system by which the Spirit of God gets a hold of people and brings forth life. That said, this is not a call to spiritual passivity. I am not advocating silence in and about our faith. We need to be bold in our faith, but we need to be sure that this boldness does not cross over the fine line into obnoxiousness. While salt is good and necessary, and while we are indeed called to be salt for the earth, the reality is that too much salt kills. Too much can ruin the meat, can oversaturate the soil, and can raise one’s blood pressure. We need to be the right amount of salt for the soil into which we are to go.
Jesus knew how to be this right amount of salt. The world was perishing, but the world was a good place, a place God created, a place worth preserving. And just as Jesus called us to be the salt of the earth, so too was he. So he became just that. He went down into the earth to preserve it, to sustain it, to bring it back to life. Jesus went down into the earth to be salt in order for the earth to become an atmosphere where dead and dying things could come to life.
When Jesus calls us “the salt of the earth”, let us remember that he modeled it for us. He became that very salt himself. To be the “salt of the earth” is to lay ourselves down for one another. It is to see one another as God sees us- beloved, beautiful and worthy of preservation. So let us go into the earth and be salt for its soil, trusting that we are among many other ingredients which, by the power of the Spirit, bring dead and dying things to life.