You are the salt of the earth; 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.
“That man is salt of the earth, I tell you! He’s salt of the earth!” With those words my young ears knew that my dad had just awarded a farm laborer his equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize and Congressional Medal of Honor combined. That man was huge in my father’s estimation. He was “salt of the earth”: honest, hardworking, conscientious, and a good tractor driver to boot.
Today, in my mind’s eyes, I see Jesus looking at a small circle of fishermen, tenant farmers, herdsmen, weavers, tax-gatherers and sinners, and saying to them, “You are the salt of the earth.” What a high honor for the very Son of God to bestow on new followers. Jesus was just beginning ministry, and they were just beginning to figure out the cost of following Him. But Jesus could say to them “You are the salt of earth.” What an incredible status and honor!
Remember that salt was essential in the economy of Galilee. Salt from nearby Magdala was needed by fishermen to preserve their day’s catch and to send it as far away as Rome. Without salt the fisherman’s catch would be rotten by tomorrow.
But salt was not only valued as a preservative, it was also the most prized seasoning in the simple Galilean spice rack. It spiced up their otherwise plain dishes. Roman soldiers in the area were paid their “salary” (Latin: salarium) in salt, which was an expensive but essential commodity. Soldiers hoped their commanders would consider them worth their salt.
Thus, it is no small vocational calling for Jesus to commission his newest followers to be “salt of the earth”. Jesus knows that without the preservative force of their renewed lives, the culture would continue its decay and rot. The world would be left without the seasoning of grace.
As we watch our culture in decay and wonder what we can do, I take heart in Jesus sending us forth as “salt of the earth”. I read today’s news and think of William Penn, the Quaker founder of the Quaker State, Pennsylvania. Penn was a person devoted to Jesus’ calling to be “salt of the earth”. He was hailed as a peacemaker among the settlers as well as among Native Americans. Penn is remembered for wanting to build a colony and culture on Jesus’ life and teachings.
In 1682 Penn wrote the “Frame of Government of Pennsylvania” which has proved important in the development of America and our freedom. In this proto-constitution Penn calls for followers of Jesus to step up and make a difference. He understood well the workings of government, and what was needed to make the new colony in the wilderness flourish. Consider Penn’s words from that frame of government:
“Governments, like clocks, go from the motion men give them, and as governments are made and moved by men, so by them they are ruined too. Wherefore governments rather depend upon men than men upon governments. Let men be good, and the government cannot be bad; if it be ill, they will cure it. But if men be bad, let the government be never so good they will endeavour to warp and spoil it to their turn.”
There is no higher calling, no greater vocation or profession, than to be “salt of the earth”. My dad knew it. That farm laborer lived it. I do hope Jesus thinks me worth my salt!
A fellow traveler,