Salt of the Earth

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
Matthew 5:13

Previously we studied the first section of the Sermon that is commonly known as the Beatitudes, and now we move onwards into the meat of the sermon. Yet in many ways the next verse is a continuation of the theme of the first section. It does not give the ‘balance’ or ‘trade’ of the previous verses – that the person having such a quality will receive this promise – but yet it does continue from the start with examining qualities that those who know and love Jesus should be demonstrating in their lives.

It has become a figure of speech in the English language to describe a person that we particularly respect as the ‘salt of the earth.’ This may be particularly true if we consider that person to be a very helpful person, unselfish, always willing to go the extra mile to help someone in need.

This is beautiful in and of itself. It makes me ask of myself, how do others see me? Would they think about how much I give, how much I contribute to the world around me? Or would they feel different? I hope and pray that people do not feel drained by my company. I also become dissatisfied with myself for those times when I can be a little needy…

But as beautiful as the modern usage is, that is not really the original meaning. You have to try to think back in time to the importance of salt a long time ago…

Firstly, salt preserves. It stops meat and fish from going bad. Meat and fish may perhaps first be dried, but then salted or even kept in jars of salt. For sure, the way you cook it after that would be different from modern methods, because for sure the meal would be too salty otherwise. But meat and even fish could be stored for a long time like this.

This was particularly important for poor families. Nearly all families would keep a little livestock, some chickens, maybe a few sheep or goats. It would take much more wealth to keep a cow. Poor families in England in past times used to keep a pig. All garden waste and whatever was waste from preparing food would go to the pig. But then one of these animals would be killed and the meat had to last a long time. There wasn’t the chance to be fussy about what parts you would like or not like – the whole animal was used. And salt was used even for the parts you could not eat. So, for instance, salt would be used in the curing process of preparing and preserving the skin.

It is not so easy to get in England, but in many parts of Europe you can still go to the supermarket or the butcher and purchase salt beef or salt pork. That is meat that is older and has been preserved in this way. You need to have the right recipes to know how to deal with it, but I have had soups with these ingredients that were very tasty.

Think about this, now apply it to our lives. We are as salt…so what is it that we are meant to preserve? Without this salt, the meat would rot and after a short time become completely inedible. The insects and other creatures would come and consume it, and the mould would create a stink…. But we, as Christians, are salt to the world around us.

Obviously the salt is at its most concentrated when we meet together. The carrion would not stand the presence of so much salt – and so it is that it is often in the meetings of the church that devils and demonic oppression of people is revealed and the cleansing work can be done, breaking the chains and setting the people free.

But we are salt in the world around us also. We stop society itself from going rotten. We preserve that which is good. We prevent the carrion creatures entering in to consume and destroy the goodness in our society.

Do we do that? May I just make an aside here and say that persecution of any section of society, whether because of an understanding about what is acceptable or not before god, is NOT what is meant to be going on with this. The current persecution of gays and lesbians is completely unacceptable before god. We preserve by being clear before the world about what is good and right and behaving accordingly. But persecution of others is nothing that I see or read when I examine the gospels, whether in the canon or any other eyewitness account of Jesus.

The gospel will not be listened to, indeed it will be rejected out of hand, if the person hearing it feels threatened, persecuted, disrespected, insulted, or any other such negative thing. OK, think of it this way… perhaps you have red hair. Now there is a person wearing a t-shirt that says on it, “All redheads will burn in hell.” He begins to talk to you. Are you going to take the message seriously? Probably not. Yet it is much worse than this for most people who are not of the Christian-accepted sexual norms.

The result is to create a ghetto mentality, and actually (because this ALWAYS happens when you create martyrs) it serves to spread the problems and make it worse. So if you want to be salt for the sake of preventing the ‘spread’ of confused sexual orientation, you will only make the problems worse by persecution.

How did Jesus tackle those considered sinners by others? He was often to be found at the local tavern and talking with them. Yes, if it came to it, He would tell them to sin no more. But Jesus demonstrated that it was people such as these that He came for. He said that He came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. And He said that it is the sick and not the healthy who need a doctor. And what kind of doctor would it be who, on meeting a diseased person, refused to serve that person at his business because of the sickness?

There are better ways to be salt in the world. The correct influence of legislation both at a regional and national level. The placing of Christians in places of authority – but please, only those who truly live Christian lives without the deceits that are so common, even expected, of politicians and authority figures today.

There should be a change in how people with a ‘past’ are treated, because the gospel itself is about people being redeemed. So people are able to be changed… There should be the encouragement of neighbourliness, looking out for one another. We have all heard tales of how in the past, especially in certain parts of the country, no-one locked their doors because everyone looked out for everyone else.

We can shake our heads and speak about how sad it is that times have changed. But we need to recognise that, if times have changed in these regards, it is because the church, and the Christians who make up the church, lost their saltiness. They did not preserve that which was good, and so society itself became rotten.

STOP complaining about it. START to be the salt!

Salt had other uses in the past. In its coarse form it was used to disinfect floors, especially where animals were being kept. So, if you had just mucked out the stables, the next job, before putting fresh straw on the ground, would have been to spread salt on the ground. Such treated stables did not usually smell as bad as some that you can walk past these days.

But this was done in homes too, especially of poorer people. Floors, as well as being swept, were salted. In fact, before sweeping, the floor would often be sprinkled with salted water to help prevent dust going into the air while sweeping. And then afterwards the floor would be washed with salt water. Or, if time or weather conditions did not allow, then at least salt was sprinkled on the floor. Many insects will not cross salted floors – so this reduced the problems with cockroaches and ants. Slugs and snails certainly can’t cross it, they can even be killed this way.

But there is one direct disinfectant use of salt that is still used today – the cleansing and prevention of infection in wounds by the use of salt. I had an operation in the mouth, and one after-treatment that I had to use was the rinsing of the mouth with salt water, and to hold this salt water over the wound. Less common these days, but just as effective, was the treatment of sores, cuts and even deep wounds with salt.

So, can it be said that we, as Christians, disinfect? Do we aid the healing of the world? Or do we only get into our huddles and complain about how bad it is all getting? The latter is useless – this is the salt that is only good for chucking out.

In times past, almost nothing was ever chucked out. But the dirt roads would develop holes and ruts, so things that were chucked out would be placed on the road to help make it more even.So yes, Jesus was talking about something very usual and normal when he spoke of being fit only for treading underfoot.

So are we salt? Do we preserve that which is good, preventing mould and discouraging carrion? Do we disinfect? Do we cleanse? Do we help to heal?

This is the challenge before us today.

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