Thank God for the new year and new beginnings.
“You are the salt of the earth,” declared Jesus (Matt. 5:13). If we’ve ever needed these compliments before, we sure do need them now in these dark, uncertain days, dominated by a relentless pandemic.
To boost the self-confidence of the marginalized for being the poor multitude, Jesus immediately addressed them saying, “Happy are the poor in spirit [not the Holy Spirit, but the breath they breathed]: for the kingdom of heaven is theirs” (verse 3, BBE).* Then He added emphatically, assertively: “You are the salt of the earth.”
Since then, whenever we want to pay tribute to the solid worth and usefulness of someone, we say they are the salt of the earth. Regrettably, this saying doesn’t have the same impact today as it did then, because we’re bombarded with warnings that salt isn’t good for human consumption. These warnings weren’t warranted back then because they didn’t use the highly refined, overprocessed substance.
Ancient Jews treasured salt, which symbolized new beginnings and separation from the past. By the time of Jesus, salt was permanently connected with a variety of uses, particularly three special qualities: purity, pungency, and preservative.
We whom Jesus designated as the salt of the earth are to bring flavor to life wherever we are sprinkled or placed.
Salt was connected with “purity,” a word derived from pur, meaning “fire.” While baptizing in the Jordan River, John the Baptist declared: “I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I. . . . He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matt. 3:11, NASB). In biblical and early Christian references, baptism by fire described unexpected transitions, martyrdom of self or others, and reception of extraordinary spiritual gifts (Acts 2:1-4). Since then, a Christian’s purity is often experienced through baptism in the fire of adversity as well as receiving powerful spiritual gifts.
Salt was also connected with pungency, or taste and flavor. This taste or flavor must be carefully balanced, because food that’s too salty is sickening and without salt is insipid. Since Christianity is to life what salt is to food, we whom Jesus designated as the salt of the earth are to bring flavor to life wherever we are sprinkled or placed.
Despite its purity and pungency, the preservative power of salt was the most obvious quality connected in the minds of the multitude. The curing, preservative practices from ancient Egypt had already spread throughout Israel. Thus, when Jesus mentioned salt, everyone knew its primary role as a preservative to keep things from going bad or rotting in a world where the weather was extremely hot, where little or no refrigeration existed and ice was very scarce.
Without the preservative presence of real Christians, the stench of rottenness from spiritually dead folk will reach the nostrils of God and kindle His wrath to the point of destroying the world as He did Sodom and Gomorrah.
Authentic Christians are the salt of the earth, a desperately needed commodity this new year. We’re agents of preservation in this culture, time, moment, slice of human history, to preserve and powerfully present the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.
* Texts credited to BBE are from The Bible in Basic English. Published in the United States by E. P. Dutton & Co., New York. First printed 1949.
Hyveth Williams is a professor of homiletics at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University.