Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.
“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” (13:34-35)
This is where we ended our last discussion: Salt. As I’m sure you know, there is a parallel in Matthew 5:
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. (Matt. 5:13)
Salt had many uses in the ancient world, and from these verses it isn’t easy to nail down which use Jesus had in mind when He said this. Whichever use He was thinking about, if the salt wasn’t “salty” it would be useless. Let’s see if we can get a little closer to His thinking…
The two most common uses for salt in those days were as a food preservative, and as the basis for seasoning food. Traditionally, preachers and commentators speak of this “salt” as a preservative and so they say that if we are the “salt of the earth” that means that we are supposed to preserve it from sin and wickedness, and then they would go off into a sermon about sin. Ah yes, as a student long ago, I read many old sermons that went down this path, sermons that would scare the heck out of anybody.
Yet in context, this really doesn’t ring true, does it? We’ve already seen that in these appeals to His followers, He was giving warnings, but not threats. Rather, they were pleas for faithfulness, for to have even one person fall astray would grieve Him greatly.
My thought is that the preservative angle is valid, but it isn’t the whole story.
As the basis for seasoning food, salt is used to bring out flavor. Ask a chef, and he or she will tell you that food must be seasoned to be worth serving. Many people today confuse seasoning with spices and herbs, but a chef will tell you that seasoning is salt and pepper (mainly salt). You can put all of the herbs and spices you want into a dish, but you won’t develop a pleasing flavor without salt. If you are not a cook, I’ll add this so you’ll appreciate what I mean here: You will never taste salt in a properly seasoned dish; you will taste everything but salt. Ah yes, this is the nuance I mentioned last time.
Matthew’s parallel has more information than Luke’s, so let’s have a look at Matthew’s complete parallel now:
“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.
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
Isn’t that interesting! We’ve already seen the rest of this in Luke and when you put these together, it’s much easier to see what the salt is all about. The light, as we have seen, shines forth the Truth of God’s Word, the salt brings out the wonders of God’s creation and the two together represent His glory bursting forth amidst the status quo of this world…
…And that is what the Kingdom is all about.
A true disciple doesn’t ever want to lose that “saltiness” any more than he or she would want to extinguish the light.