13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.Yeshua (Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 5)
Salting people and places has been a spiritual practice since before ancient times. Like ‘light’, with which salt is paired with in our Gospel reading, salt symbolises ‘life’. Even today in the Christian Church salt is sometimes used in the rite of Baptism, the consecration of altars and the blessing of holy water.
Last year I read The Salt Path by Raynor Winn, a beautiful account of middle-aged couple, beset by personal troubles, walking the South West Coastal Footpath. The ‘Salt Path’ is called as such because walking it the wayfarer is salted by the life-giving spray blown off the sea.
Salt is life
We use salt in the preservation of foodstuffs. I have been keenly watching This Fishing Life, a BBC TV series on the beleaguered Cornish fishing industry. In the 1980s I worked for a short while on Falmouth harbour sorting and packing newly caught fish in salt as a means of keeping their freshness.
Salt is also used for flavouring and seasoning. Bringing food to life by improving its taste. Some foods are very bland and adding salt makes them more palatable. There is a third use of salt, which often gets missed when people preach on this passage.
Preservation, Flavouration and…
From ancient times salt has been used in the process of fertilizing the soil. Which is precisely why Jesus calls his followers, ‘Salt of the earth’.
From the corresponding passage in Luke’s Gospel, chapter 14:
34 “Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?35 It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; they throw it away. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”
Today as in 1st century Palestine salt is precured from the Dead Sea, which is heavy with salt deposits.
Sea salt is sprinkled on manure, which has the effect of not only keeping weeds at bay but also activating the decomposition of the soil. Apparently this process came up on Gardeners Question Time recently!
As followers of Jesus we are to be fertile-iser. Growth agents, operating below the surface of things to promote, enable and sustain growth.
The Kingdom of God is the Kingdom of Life. Our ‘King’ Jesus is the Lord of Life. In the words of the Apostle John, ‘In Him was life’ (John 1: 4), and in His own words, “I am…the life”. (John 14: 6)
Jesus, the source and sustainer of life. His life is in us! We are his salt-shakers.
Yet, Jesus also warns us to be careful not to lose our saltiness. Is this an oxymoron? Can salt actually lose its saltiness?
Scientists tell us that sodium chloride – pure salt – can never lose its saltiness. However, the salt taken from the Dead Sea is mixed with other impurities, meaning that if it is left out in the rain, its saltiness washes away, leaving only the baseless minerals, which are no use for preservation, seasoning or fertilisation.
Sea Salt then can lose its saltiness. And it needs to be mixed with manure to be an effective natural fertiliser. As growth agents for the Kingdom we need not to be separated from the world, but to be in-the-mix.
I had an interesting conversation with my friend Andy yesterday afternoon. Andy is an ‘active-ist’ with Extinction Rebellion (XR). Andy was telling me that a good few Jesus-followers are involved with the XR movement, which is in encouraging thing, especially given all the negative press the institutional church is receiving lately.
XR are more than activists. They are activators. Salt people. Literally salting the earth. The very soil on which we depend for life itself.