“You are the salt of the earth.” Matthew 5:13
To dig deeper into what Jesus means when he says in this passage, I decided to travel about 150 miles south of my home in Salt Lake City, Utah to Redmond, Utah, and spend time with a salt miner.
That’s where I met Neil, a man has who has been bagging salt since he was 11 years old. Neil handed me a hardhat. We climbed into his oversized truck and drove toward the back of the property. Entering the mouth of the mine, natural light vanished. We began to decent more than 420 feet deep. The road kept forking into this complex labyrinth.
As we descended, I started to see something that put my nerves at ease. Breathtaking beauty.
From the truck’s beams I saw salt stalactites reaching down like frozen icicles. Suddenly I was breathing the sweet soft smell of salt.
We finally came to a stop. 420 feet down. There was a large piece of construction equipment modified with a drilling arm. The driver flashed the truck lights twice. The drill shut off.
We climbed out of the truck. The first thing I heard. Nothing. There was this deafening silence.
I’m still my mother’s daughter. So I reached down for a pinch of salt from the floor. This salt tasted different than others I’ve tried. It was gentler, not as harsh and had this almost sweet finish.
Neil explained this salt tastes different because unlike highly refined salt, it hasn’t been chemically altered. It still contains the 60 naturally occurring minerals our bodies need—things like magnesium and iron.
Salt dust was still falling from the work of the drill as Neil led me to the wall of the cavern.
A thin powder covered the surface. He took his hand and wiped it away. Suddenly we were standing before the most beautiful jeweled wall I had ever seen: color of peach sapphires, pink garnets, brown and white quartz.
What joy it must bring God, the creator, to see such hidden beauty every day?
We eventually drove back out of the mine, and when I saw the first rays of daylight, I was so relieved. We sat for the next few hours talking about all things salt, and before I left, he sent me home with some large salt chunks from the expedition.
It had red hues from iron, and brown hues from magnesium. And when it’s ground up it forms a light rose hue like Himalayan salt. Why? It contains many of the same minerals. So you don’t have to buy salt from half-way across the world, you can find it harvested right here in the United States.
Why does this background matter as we look at salt imagery within the Bible?
Because the Bible was never referring to a chemically-altered, purified form of sodium chloride …that’s been fortified with iodine since 1924. Rather it was sourced and harvested with its surrounding minerals. That is highly significant for today’s text.
You… are the salt of the earth.
Jesus says these words, it traces back to the history of salt, a call to be preserving agents in this world. Just as salt is placed between the layers in curing fish and meat, so too you are embedded in this culture, in this place, in this time, in this slice of history. It is not a mistake, God has not fallen asleep in kitchen or had a divine oopsies!, He has placed you here, now, in this community that you would be an embedded in preserving the ways, the teachings, the life of Christ. That is who you are!
But remember even in antiquity, everyone knew salt doesn’t just preserve food, it flavors food.
Jesus is saying, as the salt of the earth, everywhere you go, you’re going to bring the taste of heaven down to earth.
Where people taste bitterness, you bring forgiveness.
Where people taste sourness, you bring kindness.
As the salt of the earth, you are a PRESERVING agent and a FLAVORING agent, but there’s something more.
In the Greek, the six-word declaration that we are salt is followed by a 20-word warning and we would be remiss if we didn’t look at that.
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. Matthew 5:13
Curious about this, I asked my new bestie salt miner friend, Neil, can salt really lose its saltiness? Because I’d read some commentators who said its impossible for salt to lose saltiness. Once sodium chloride, always sodium chloride. But as Neil pointed out, those people never worked in a salt mine. He explained salt loses its saltiness through dilution by other substances. When salt is overpowered by the presence of other things, it loses its ability to influence.
No wonder Jesus follows his declaration with a 20-word warning.
He doesn’t speak these words to makes us feel defeated or discouraged but to spring us into action. What he’s saying is there are going to be things that try to dilute your influence as a child of God. Be on your guard…other substances are going to try to weaken your ability to be a persevering and flavoring agent. And sometimes you may do it to yourself. How? By spreading ourselves too thin. Serve on too many committees. Press snooze too many times on your quiet time. Skip out on small group or church for other things too many times.
How do you know you’re losing your saltiness?
You’re excelling at work but leaving your family behind…
You’re cutting corners and thinking it’s no big deal.
You have lots of priorities in your life… God just isn’t really one of them.
When this happens, Jesus says remember: this is not you! That is not who you are or who you’re created be. You are the salt of the earth. You are the preserving agents. You are the flavoring agents.
As the salt of the earth, you are not just a preserving agent or flourishing agent, you are also an agent for human flourishing.
Sal in Latin means salt. That’s where we get the word “salary.” Or the expressions “earning his salt” and “worth her salt.” It’s also where we get the word “salad”, vegetables that have been seasoned with salt, and “sausage” meat that has been seasoned with salt. There’s another word with that same root I want to mention. Salvation. It is your saltiness that brings salvation to a lost, hungry, and dying world.
And you don’t have to go far. Who are the people in your life, in your neighborhood, in your community that you can begin reaching out to today? Some of their names are sitting right in your cell phone. They are listed in your friends on Facebook or Instagram.
You, my dear friend, are called and created to be salt to the people in your life right here. Right now. Today. That crabby neighbor, the lonely co-worker, the friend battling chronic illness, the super-momma who’s in over her head, the teen who needs a mentor, your own kids and grandkids and besties and significant others. God has placed you exactly where you so he can pour you out.
The Psalmist declared, “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps 34:8), so Margaret Feinberg decided to take the invitation literally. She embarked on a global culinary and spiritual adventure descending 410 feet into a salt mine, baking fresh matzo at Yale University, harvesting olives off the Croatian coast, and tasting succulent fi gs at a premier farm—all to discover the truth in such a simple verse. With each person she encountered, she asked, “How do you read the Scripture in light of what you do every day?” Their answers will change the way you read the Bible forever…and the way you approach every meal.