Nil utilius sole et sale ~”There is nothing more useful than sun and salt.” Waxing Latin-lyrical, the Romans coined that rhyme as the ancient equivalent of a jingle. Like a writer who can pluck the heartstrings and is “worth his salt” or game-changers, world-shapers, risk-takers, vision-casters and history-makers whom our grandparents call the “salt of the earth,” in Jesus’s day, to say someone was salty was High Concept complimenting! In times of antiquity the Greeks even called salt, theion, which means, “divine.”
When millennials today declare, “You’re salty,” that is code for “Make like a bee and buzz off because you’re buzzkill.” But in bygone days of yore, to dub someone “salty” was to go into raptures over that person, to sing one’s praises. Indeed, the most primitive of all sacrifices were salt offerings. To be salty was to be fit for the gods. What’s more, all Jewish sacrifices were offered with salt. The Romans went to such lengths as to say salt was the “purest of all things” because it came from the purest of all things: the sun and the sea. I daresay you must be feeling pretty warm and fuzzy right now.
When Jesus called you “the salt of the Earth,” He was basically saying you’re the cat’s pajamas.
It’s a noble aspiration then to assault the snail (or shall I say a-salt the snail) as we, like Paul, shake the snake and, at Jesus’s bidding, fulfill our teleological design by being “the salt of the earth.” Ah, but we shan’t forget the “b” clause! Jesus added: “If the salt loses its flavor… it is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.” Ouch. Jesus was pressing into service a metaphor that the Jews of His day understood, seeing as how if a Hebrew said no way to Yahweh and then repented of his sins, he’d have to lie at the threshold of the synagogue and people would literally trample over him. Likewise, a tradition cropped up among early Christian churches to do the same.
Case in point: When a guy got hammered on communion wine, hoarded bread at the expense of the poor and slept with his dad’s wife (can anyone say Corinth?) and was therefore handed over to the synagogue of Satan, the moment he returned, he’d have to lie at the door of the Church as people stepped on him while he quoted Matthew 5:13: “Trample on me for I am the salt that has lost its flavor.” Don’t try this at your home church, kids.
Jesus was not speaking in literality, but hyperbole. In layman’s terms, He was saying that if salt loses its flavor it loses its effectiveness. When, however, salt is doing its job, its savor is a savior. Plutarch and the Greeks taught that the soul was to a body what salt was to dead meat: It gives life to flesh. Salt’s job keeps food from going bad, lest it decompose like a carcass sans soul. It warded off putrefaction. It was a preservative. If salt keeps food from going bad, and WE are the salt of the earth…who’s fault is it if the world goes rotten?
Hmm. Changes things, eh?
So here’s a novel idea: If the earth is going rotten, we should stop blaming the world for going bad, and start blaming ourselves for not being the salt that preserves it. It’s OUR job to keep the decay of despair at bay. It’s OUR job to preserve the good. It’s OUR job to be a positive influence on the world. It’s OUR job to keep the earth from going bad.
So if culture is going rotten, that might just mean the salt isn’t doing its job.
Why then are Christians known more for blaming the rottenness than blaming ourselves for failing to preserve it?
How do we keep the decay of despair at bay? Jesus told us. Remember hermeneutics 101: The greatest commentary on the Bible is the Bible. The way to interpret a text is by its context. And Jesus Himself said salt equals (drum roll please) FLAVOR! He said if the salt loses its flavor, it’s good for nothing. We’re to lend flavor to existence. We’re to be the life of the party, like Jesus.
He was anointed with the oil of gladness above all his fellows. He played “pipes in the marketplace” to bid children to dance. He told a parable of a sprinting father (historically, running for Jews was embarrassing and uncivilized) who threw a dance party for a prodigal, which was so loud his brother could hear the dancing (you know they must’ve been turning up when dancing is not seen but heard). As a wise man once said, “We’d be more comfortable if Jesus turned wine into water, but Jesus turned water into wine.” He was a friend with the mobsters, hustlers and call girls. Jesus wasn’t called to isolate but to infiltrate!
I’ll allow that Jesus told his disciples they were not of the world. But! He did pray that they should be in the world. The word “Pharisee” means “separated one” (and there were only 6,000 at any given time), and true to form, they were isolated. Jesus, however, got in the mix. While not of the world, He certainly did not shy away from being in it.
Culture. Needs. Salty. Christians. The rottenest places beckon us come!
Our world grows tired of the “pleasures of sin that last for a season,” and crave “pleasures forevermore” at the Lord’s right hand. They need salt for every “season” (pun intended).
Jesus said, “Salt is good.” And if you’ve been to Red Robin, you’d second that. When I use their seasoning salt liberally (yum!), it is french fries as religious experience. It tastes like hope feels. It’s like a sunrise slithering down the throat. It’s like Handel’s Messiah in my taste buds. It’s like…you get the picture. If the world says of Christians, “They really suck the flavor out of life,” we have missed our calling…but if the world says of us, “Those Christians really bring out the flavor in life,” we’ve fulfilled our destiny.
We’re to bring encouragement nourishment everywhere we go.
If God could use a rock, a donkey and a bush, He can use us to be a non-anxious presence in the world, put people in courage as we encourage them and go to the most rotten places to do our duty as the salt.
When you are the life of the party, people will wonder why you’re so zesty and flavorful, and they’ll ask for a reason for the hope that is within you. They’ll crave your sacred optimism like a dying man thirsty for water! Which, by the way, is why they put so much salt on your popcorn when you go the movie theater. Salt makes you thirsty. After all that salty popcorn, you have to buy their $25.50 drink, clever business ploy.
When we become salty by getting rid of stinking thinking and taking our checkup from the neck-up with an attitude of gratitude, others will thirst for the hope we have. Like the Psalmist they’ll say, “My soul thirsts for God,” and we’ll reply like Isaiah, “Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters…” and drink! We’ll lead them to John 4 where they’ll find water that will cause them to never thirst again, to John 7 wherein Jesus said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink…[for] out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” So pass the salt, please!
The world will be won to a much fuller faith when we’re delicious disciples, tasty titans and scrumptious for our Savior as we savor the Savior.