You are the salt of the earth – Just what does that mean?
Jesus said to his disciples: “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”
Fr. Bob gave an excellent homily this morning that I will try to recreate here.
Calling us “light” is something most of us can comprehend. Our actions shine forth for all the world to see, and hopefully our actions are even brighter because they are good actions. Others can be inspired by our example.
But what about “salt?” What does it mean to be “salt of the earth?” I am taking an Introduction to Sacred Scripture class this semester, and one of the things we are learning about this ancient, holy text is that context is everything. The Bible was written 2000-3000 years ago. The culture was a lot different then. We need to take a peek into the ways of that time to understand the phrases we read in the Bible.
Even in today’s society salt has many uses. (Here are Sixty Uses for Table Salt.) But how did the ancients use salt?
Salt was in use long before recorded history. Since the dawn of time, animals have instinctively forged trails to natural salt sources to satisfy their need for salt. Ancient man the hunter obtained his salt from eating animal meat. As he turned to agriculture and his diet changed, he found that salt (maybe as sea water) gave his vegetables the same salty flavour he was accustomed to with meat.
Over many millennia, he learned how salt helped to preserve food, cure hides and heal wounds. Nomadic bands would have carried salt with them and traded it with other bands for different goods. (http://www.saltsense.co.uk/history01.php)
There is a need for salt in our diet, and as man became less and less nomadic, he needed to make his own salt. Salt-making became its own industry and salt was used extensively in trade and as payment for labor. As a result, salt had great value in ancient societies, especially since it was less accessible than it is today.
The Bible contains numerous references to salt. In various contexts, it is used metaphorically to signify permanence, loyalty, durability, fidelity, usefulness, value, and purification. It was also used as a component of ceremonial offerings, and as a unit of exchange.
Ye are the salt of the earth. Salt preserves from corruption. As the disciples of Messiah we are to preserve the world from general corruption. Whatever becomes utterly corrupted is doomed to be destroyed. Just like food left out on the counter, our world is corrupt and doomed for destruction unless we do something about it. (http://www.jewishjesus.org/Article21.html – this is a very good article)
So we are to preserve the world from corruption. How exactly are we to do that? By remaining in the world and letting our “light” shine. The salt and the light work together in harmony. We need to keep our contracts and covenants and help others to see that their covenants are binding as well. We also need to share the Word of God and pray that more and more hearts will be converted to the Truth. Only God can change hearts, but it is our job to plant some salty seeds and watch God make them grow.
Update: In Thomas Merton’s autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, he covers a lot of spiritual ground. While some are nervous about reading him, even happy that he died when he did before he got in serious trouble because of his interest in Eastern spiritualities, it appears that Merton was a committed Christian and was looking for what could be learned from them. Many Christians are spoiled by life in the West, even the vowed religious, and cannot comprehend the simple lifestyle of an Eastern monk. We will never know if Merton strayed away from Catholicism, or if he truly was trying to learn from them, one thing is certain, Merton lived a wild life prior to his conversion, and his conversion was hopefully sincere. If that is the case, then the devil worked extra hard on him if he did in fact fall. While that is a very simplistic overview of Merton I would like to add his comments on “salt of the earth” as they appear in The Seven Storey Mountain, which does have an imprimatur.
I had to be led by a way that I could not understand, and I had to follow a path that was beyond my own choosing. God did not want anything of my natural tastes and fancies and selections until they had been more completely divorced from their old track, their old habits, and directed to Himself, by His own working. My natural choice, my own taste in selecting a mode of life, was altogether untrustworthy. And already my selfishness was asserting itself, and claiming this whole vocation for itself, by investing the future with all kinds of natural pleasures and satisfactions which would fortify and defend my ego against the troubles and worries of life in the world.
Besides, I was depending almost entirely on my own powers and on my own virtues — as if I had any! — to become a good religious, and to live up to my obligations in the monastery. God does not want that. He does not ask us to leave the world as a favor to Himself.
God calls men — not only religious, but all Christians — to be the “salt of the earth.” But the savor of the salt, says St. Augustine, is a supernatural life, and we lose our savor if, ceasing to rely on God alone, we are guided, in our actions, by the mere desire of temporal goods or the fear of their loss: “Be ye not solicitous, therefore, saying what shall we eat, or what shall we drink or wherewith shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the heathens seek. For your Father knoweth that you have need of all these things.” “And he said to all: If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; for he that shall lose his life, for my sake, shall save it.”
No matter what religious Order a man enters, whether its Rule be easy or strict in itself does not much matter, if his vocation is to be really fruitful it must cost him something, and must be a real sacrifice. It must be a cross, a true renunciation of natural goods, even of the highest natural goods.