Jesus’s Manifesto: The Sermon on the Mount
Lent day 3 (Friday) — Salt
You are the salt of [the land]. But if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? It’s good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet.
- I’ve made a translation choice here. “The land” was always important to Jesus’ people. It meant the promised land, a land of their own. Centuries before, when his people were taken in exile “from the land” to Babylon, it was a terrible punishment. Proverbs says “Those who have integrity will dwell in the land; the innocent will remain in it. But the wicked will be cut off from the land, and the treacherous will be ripped up.” (2:21-22)
- Either translation works, but for modern readers “the earth” conjures up an image of our planet floating in space. That’s not wrong theologically, of course, but we modern people in our mobile society have forgotten how important the land has been to agrarian societies. Jesus’s people lived according to agricultural times of planting and harvest. Their lives were rooted in the land.
- You can also read “the earth” contrasted with “the heavens,” which is where Jesus has described our reward. Our reward is “in the heavens,” but we are the salt “of the earth.”
- Salt was expensive.
- You don’t eat a meal of salt. You add a bit of it to other things. It brings out the flavor of what it is added to.
- Salt was part of the offering made at the temple. A portion of this offering went to the poor and to the priests as their payment. Making an offering without salt was bad form, because it was essentially giving someone a flavorless meal (Leviticus 2:13). Offerings were not supposed to be given grudgingly, but with an attitude of generosity. You want the offerings you make to be flavorful and good, right?
- If this community of disciples is to be the salt of the land, it means God has given us as an offering to the world to bring out its flavor. Disciples bring zest and life to the world.
- If the community loses its flavor, it is no longer good for anything. Luke’s version is even more extreme: “not even fit for the manure pile,” in Jesus’s words (Luke 14:35). Keep in mind, Jesus has just told them they are to be like the prophets of old. What would it mean for a community of prophets to be truly “salty” in the world? How would this new community bring out the world’s flavor?