Salt is important. It has its own Wiki page and even has a history book (Mark Kurlansky: Salt: A World History.) Yup, you heard it correctly. A whole history of the world written in the context of salt. As the author writes, “from the beginning of civilization until about one hundred years ago, salt was one of the most sought-after commodities in human history.” And you took salt for granted.
From today’s gospel were hear: “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.” (Matthew 5:13) We are familiar with salt for all sorts of purposes: to accentuate flavors, melt ice, soften water, and lower the boiling point of water. It soothes sore throats, rinses sinuses, eases swelling, and cleanses wounds. If we don’t have enough salt in our bodies, we die. But if we have too much? We have high blood pressure…and can also die.
Cooking with salt is an art form in and of itself. Think of all the options: table or kosher salt, sea salt, Himalayan pink, celtic, fleur de sel, kala namak, flake salt, black and red Hawaiian, Persian blue, and who knows how many other kinds of salt. Too little salt, and some foods remains bland and lifeless, all of its potential zest subdued. Too much salt, and the food is lost to a sharp, intolerable bitterness. When we were kids my mom, a good cook in her day, made a chicken soup. A comedy of errors over-salted the concoction. The chicken died a second death and we kids were sure mom was trying to poison us. We poured the soup out the breakfast nook window. Mom caught us and yelled. The plants outside died. As I said, cooking with salt is an art form.
While we might appreciate salt, it is not in the same way as the people who heard Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. All the people, rich, poor, democrat, republican – anyway you want to slice it – as Jesus said – they were the salt of the earth. As he tells us today: we are the salt of the earth. Not what we might be one day. No, right now, we are the salt of the earth. It is who are. We are the salt of the earth, and what we do with our saltiness matters. We are that which will enhance or embitter, soothe or irritate, melt or sting, preserve or ruin.
Salt works best when it dissolves into what is around it, giving of itself, sharing its unique flavor in order to bring out the best in all that surrounds it. Which means, that if we want to enhance and preserve the world we live in, we must not remain within the walls of our churches. Salt doesn’t exist to preserve itself; it exists to preserve what is not itself.
In its use we must remember that salt is meant to enhance, not dominate. One of the great tragedies and sins of Christianity over the centuries has been the failure to understand this distinction. Salt fails when it dominates. Instead of drawing out the goodness, it overpowers and destroys leaving a bitter sensation in its wake. It ruins what it tries to enhance and repels what remains.
Rightly applied, Christian saltiness heals; it doesn’t wound. It purifies; it doesn’t pollute. Even when Christian saltiness draws the thirsty towards the Living Water of God. It doesn’t leave the already thirsty parched and embittered. It does not exacerbate wounds, irritate souls, or ruin goodness. Christian saltiness blesses and brings out the good to make it better.