Jesus says that those who live His beatitudes will be the “salt of the earth.” What are we supposed to get out of that image? To us salt is a tiny everyday part of our lives, but in the ancient world salt was often the only preservative, and the only spice, along with being a symbol of healing.
I remember when I was growing up I thought the salt of the earth were farmers. That seemed to be what the expression was used for. I think most people have similar ideas. I find that one of the problems with the Bible is that so many of its stories and images have become so everyday that their real meanings have been watered down and distorted, this being one of them.
OK, back to what Jesus was trying to say. One think to notice is that He did not say that if they listened to His words they would go to heaven. He said they will be the salt of the earth. They will be a gift to this earth, now, in their lifetime. We tend to think of Jesus’s teachings as rules we have to follow to get to heaven. Instead the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes are really more of a description of what a free life would be. He is illustrating the final product, rather than telling us how to get there. When you can identify with the little ones, when you can weep, when you can make peace, when you can suffer persecution with joy; then you are doing it right! He is telling us what holiness looks like, and that when we act this way the kingdom of God will be among you!
So the beatitudes are not the new law. Please do not even try to interpret them that way. Jesus doesn’t try to control us. He isn’t concerned about enforcement of rules or making sure everyone acts the same. Remember He wants friends, not slaves. He gives us an example, teaches us that He is the way, and trusts that people of good will and a completely trustworthy God will take it from there.
But what if the salt becomes tasteless, how will we preserve, flavor, and heal the world? This is what Jesus asks, and it seems especially poignant today. If Christians no longer believe the gospel, if we no longer believe in non-violence, peace, mercy, forgiveness, and humility, who is going to convert us? We are supposed to be the leaven of the world, but if we no longer follow the teachings of Jesus, what hope do we have of saving others?
Often, throughout history, the saints and prophets who went out to covert the world had to return and convert or reconvert the Christians. It is as though every generation needs to be reminded what Jesus was really talking about.
Jesus’s solution was more drastic than the way we just keep plodding along with tasteless salt. He says that it is good for nothing and should not only be thrown out but should be trampled underfoot!
I think by calling His disciples the salt of the earth rather than the saved ones, Jesus was trying to keep them humble. How can salt ever get full of itself? It isn’t the meal, just the seasoning. How many “saved” people have you met you think of themselves as just the seasoning? Christ was never trying to create a members only club. He in fact keeps saying that God loves everyone, not just the ones we expect Him to. He loves the people at the bottom and on the outside. If we don’t believe His message, what good are we?
In short, as long as some people hold onto the wisdom of the gospel, it will be enough to flavor the entire meal of life. It is the good news of the gospel that gives taste to the whole world.