|Salt: A vital ingredient for life.|
Some things in life we cannot live without. (I’m told smartphones, college football, milkshakes, GPS and HGTV aren’t considered among them!) You could come up with your own list of life’s must-haves, but one that comes immediately to my mind is salt. You know, that white stuff that comes in tiny granules?
Throughout history, societies have recognized the value of salt, at times making it a prized trading commodity. Did you know that in Austria, Salzburg literally means “salt castle,” and the city was established along the banks of the Salzach (“salt river”)? The word “salary,” some say, is derived from the Latin word for salt. If so, it’s no wonder individuals are described as being “worth their salt.”
Salt boasts hundreds of functions, including being a vital part of the physiological composition of animals, and to a lesser degree, plant life. We often think of salt as a seasoning, capable of bringing out or adding flavor to various foods. It’s also a preservative, being used for that purpose before the advent of canning and refrigeration. In some forms, salt is capable of melting ice, as anyone who’s battled snow and ice in the winter can attest. When salt gets into a wound, it can heal and/or burn the one who has been injured. Salt also makes us thirsty.
My intent is not to provide a lesson in salt science, or salt sociology, but to consider why salt is used to convey important spiritual principles. In Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount,” He told His followers, “You are the salt of the earth…” (Matthew 5:13a). Jesus presented this metaphor to explain how His disciples were to reach out to those around them. Like properties inherent in salt, we’re commanded to serve as salt to help cultivate appetites for the Good News of Christ.
To those willing to listen, Jesus’ words create a hunger – as well as a thirst – to hear more. Heeding His truth, as Jesus promised, is the one path to salvation, to become “preserved” spiritually. The gospels show numerous accounts of people whose once-cold hearts melted through their encounters with Christ, and this still occurs today. Perhaps you were once like that yourself.
To many individuals Jesus brought healing, and He continues to do this today – sometimes physically, sometimes relationally, and of course, eternally. At the same time, the Bible accounts tell us His words also caused some to burn with hatred toward Him, whether jealous of His influence over the many responding to Him, or simply refusing to accept His uncompromising terms.
In this same passage about salt, however, Jesus offered a stern warning. He said, “But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men” (Matthew 5:13b). Remember Lot’s wife in the book of Genesis, who turned into a pillar of salt for disobeying God by looking back at the devastation of Sodom and Gomorrah? That didn’t exactly make her a pillar of the community.
I often wonder how well we’re doing at this “salt” business. Do we come across just as arrogant and argumentative as non-believers with whom we interact, whether face to face or Facebook to Facebook? Rather than making our message more palatable; serving to preserve and sustain the relationships we’re seeking to build; or melting the ice of hearts grown ice-cold to the truth of Jesus Christ, do we succeed only in irritating wounds still raw from unfortunate life experiences?
We’re stewards of the truth, but that doesn’t justify bludgeoning others with it. Colossians 4:5-6 speaks to this, urging us to, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation always be full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
Similarly, 1 Peter 3:15-16 says we’re to speak “with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” Communicating the message of Jesus effectively calls for equal measures of wisdom, tact, compassion and respectfulness. It’s said you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. However, you can salt his oats.
Some people don’t like salt, and no amount of posturing or persuading will change their minds. Sometimes salt seeps into wounds that have long gone unhealed, causing discomfort, even distress. Those aren’t excuses, however, for not doing as Jesus asked, striving to be salt to those we encounter in an increasingly tasteless society.