~ Matthew 5:13-16 ~
It’s made of two of the most volatile elements on earth. Drop a lump of sodium in a bucket of water and it will explode with enough force to kill. Chlorine is even more deadly. It was the active ingredient in the poison gases used in World War I. But you put the two elements together and what you get is innocuous sodium chloride – common table salt.
Of all the minerals in the earth, the most vital to our dietary needs is sodium. Our bodies need certain amounts of sodium to stay healthy. And sodium chloride – salt – is how we get that essential ingredient of life. Of course, as we all probably know we get too much salt these days. So low sodium diets, low sodium foods, are a thing. After all, we only need about 200 mg a day, which is only about 6-8 vigorous shakes of the salt shaker. One can of soup is way more than that. Processed foods are loaded with salt. Who knew that an ounce of cornflakes contains more salt than an ounce of salted peanuts?
For some unknown reason our ancient forbearers knew that salt was vital. I mean, we would die without it. Archaeologists point out that once people settled down in agricultural communities they began to suffer salt deficiencies – something that their previous meat-only diet didn’t exhibit. It’s not even sure that they consciously knew they needed salt – it’s not like the lack of salt creates any particular craving, like “man, I sure could do with some salt!” How our ancient forbearers knew they needed salt is one of the mysteries of human existence. And yet, there is a profound urge for salt.
The search for salt was on. Thus salt became one of the most precious commodities in the world. Salt is now so plentiful and cheap that we forget how intensely desirable it once was. People have fought wars over salt; been sold into slavery for salt. Much blood has been spilled over this simple compound – salt!
When Jesus invoked this metaphor of salt, his listeners were very aware of how valuable it is. Indeed, that might be the very reason Jesus used it – salt is valuable. That could be all that Jesus intended. When he said, “you are the salt of the earth,” in essence he was saying, “you are valuable, just like salt.” Now, live up to your worthiness.
Scholars have speculated for centuries about how we are supposed to be salt, how we are supposed to act as salt. Being a preservative is good. Being tasty is good. But the fact is, we really don’t know if Jesus meant to suggest how we are to act as salt. We don’t act like salt; we don’t become salt. We are salt.
OK, Jesus does throw in this caveat: “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 underfoot.” The fact is, salt doesn’t lose its saltiness. Salt is salt. Salt tastes like salt. Again, I think his listeners knew that. The absurdity of his statement seems to drive home the point even stronger. Whereas salt can’t stop being salt, you, as people of the kingdom, can live and act as if you weren’t. Don’t be those kind of people. Be salt; be the salt of the earth.
Similarly, you are light. You can’t stop being light. You can only hide it, put it under a bushel basket. So, he seems to be saying, be proud of being the light; shine on so the whole world can see it. Be the people of the kingdom; be light.
When it comes down to it, living our Christian lives, faithfully and intentionally, does that. Responding to the call to serve, even as deacons and elders whom we will be ordaining and installing later in the service, is doing that. But you don’t have to hold an office to be salt and light. All of us, together, are salt and light.
Yes, even our participation in eating Christ’s supper is an expression of who we are. Taking a chunk of bread and dipping it into the cup is an expression of who we are as Christ’s disciples, who we are as salt and light.
So, I say to us all today, own it, claim it! Claim your saltiness. Claim your…lightedness (?). Be the people of God’s realm on this earth. For, after all, we are the salt of the earth. Amen.