“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
– Matthew 5:13-16 NKJV
“He’s a salt of the earth kind of guy.” It’s a comment spoken frequently around here, and we all nod knowingly when we hear it. We understand the man in question is being described as the kind of person who helps keep the world turning by quietly going about his business, doing the best he can, loving his family, caring for his friends, making an honest living, paying his taxes, voting in every election. Western PA is famous for producing salt-of-the-earth-kind-of-guys. We specialize in it, and there’s a certain homespun goodness about it.
But I don’t think that’s what Jesus had in mind when He said these words, or at least I don’t think that’s all He meant. (I do believe The Eternal Mansions™ will have a large wing especially for salt-of-the-earth people! But I digress…)
I’ve often heard preachers preach about salt being preservative, and of course it is: in ages past people used salt in place of refrigeration to keep their meat, if not fresh, at least edible for a longer period of time. The preachers then go on to say that the believer’s job is to “be preservative” in society, to slow the rot and decay brought on by lack of morality and charity. They have a point in theory, but in practice this too often becomes a source of judgementalism and hypocrisy.
I prefer to go with the more obvious meaning: salt is salty. Jesus says “if salt loses its flavor” — He’s not talking about preservative, He’s talking about taste. Salt makes your taste buds stand up and take notice. It makes the flavor of food come alive. In the same way, people of faith make people sit up and take notice. Whether you approve of religion or not, believers make life come alive. Believers are noticeable because (like salt) we’re supposed to be noticeable. We add a dynamic that, if it was missing, would leave the world boring and tasteless.
Jesus says “if salt loses its flavor” — there’s a warning here, a puzzling one. How is it possible for salt to lose its flavor? Google confirmed my suspicions. There’s only one way for salt to lose its saltiness — by dilution. Mix it in too much water and it disperses to the point that eventually you can’t taste it any more. Mix a believer in too many worldly concerns and the saltiness of faith is lost. (Jesus warns against this again in a parable when He speaks of good seeds being choked out by weeds.) And when a Christian gets too caught up in worldly concerns and worldly thinking, they are (as Jesus says) trampled under feet by men. By way of illustration insert church scandal du jour here.
Jesus goes on to say “you are the light of the world”. This is an amazing statement to take in. Speaking as a believer I know I don’t feel much like light in the world. I drag my bleary-eyed butt out of bed in the morning just like everybody else. Ah, but it’s not my light Jesus is talking about, it’s His. He lights the lamp. He sets it on a stand. As a believer my job is to be where He puts me and keep on burning. Allow myself to be seen, allow His light to shine through me, allow Him to trim me and fill me.
It’s much easier to see when I look at the lives of other believers. When I look at my brothers and sisters in Christ, who I love, who I know have as many imperfections as I do but who love Jesus and are committed to living for Him — I hear things coming out of their mouths and I see things happening in their lives that I know are humanly impossible. You can’t make this stuff up. Jesus said it best: their light shines before others in such a way that others give glory to God, because there’s no way they can claim credit for themselves.
So… bottom line… we are salt and light. Meant to be different. Meant to make life interesting. Meant to be visible. Meant to be vessels by which people can see. Be true, and be careful not to fall from the faith. People will see and acknowledge God’s glory.