Salt is the good stuff
In today’s Gospel, salt is used figuratively to say something about the spiritual qualities of being a disciple. Salt adds something. Just as salt adds quality and flavor to food, disciples add something to the world when they live into their discipleship rooted in the Gospel. “You are the salt of the earth,” says Jesus, “But if salt loses its taste… it is no longer good for anything” (Mt 5:13).
How do you understand the phrase ‘salt of the earth’ within the context of Mt 5:1-16?
How are you called to give lavishly?
Is there a clear sense within your own faith journey as to how it adds flavor to the world?
You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? (Mt 5:13
As an image, salt brings out a variety of comparisons to discipleship. Salt is used for seasoning. Salt can also be used as fertilizer to soak up water and protect roots within the soil. Salt was even used as money in the ancient world; the term “salary” comes from the salt that Roman soldiers received as part of their wages.
One ancient use of salt is lost to modern society. Ancient Israelites added it to their sacrifices in conformity with Lv 2:13, "You shall not omit from your grain offerings the salt of the covenant with your God; with all your offerings you shall offer salt." Although the nuances of this instruction are obscure, the basic sense is clear: Salt represented the quality of Israel's commitment to God.
In the light of discipleship, salt represents a gift of the highest value. In this Sunday’s Gospel, to be salt of the earth is to offer one’s life as the purest gift to God. In the Beatitudes that immediately precede this Sunday’s Gospel passage, Jesus includes in his kingdom those that society holds disgraced, like the mournful, the poor in spirit, those who hunger and the lowly. The world may unknowingly ignore such individuals, but God accepts them as more valuable than any religious sacrifice. Their simple faith in God in spite of their life situation is what makes them valuable in the eyes of God.
The disciples who are the ‘salt of the earth’ and the ‘light of the world’ are those who understand how to give within the fragility or abundance of their circumstances.
Finding profound value in life’s hardships challenges human understanding. The “light” Jesus speaks of in this Sunday’s Gospel is the ability to see the reality of this value. His command, that his disciples be the light of the world, includes a call to embrace the hardships of others as their own.
The disciples who are the ‘salt of the earth’ and the ‘light of the world’ are those who understand how to give within the fragility or abundance of their circumstances. Those who are salt are the disciples who see the value of those who feel empty or are discarded by society. Those who live as light are those who the poor can trust for authentic human connection. This Sunday responsorial psalm imagines such a world (Ps 112:9), as does the prophet Isaiah in this Sunday’s first reading. “If you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then light shall rise for you in the darkness” (Is 58:10).
Salt and light are essential for life. If these elements were to become anything different, they would cease to provide any lifegiving benefits. The same holds true for authentic discipleship. Salt represents the sacrificial offering of our lives; light represents our commitment to active charity. A disciple who loses awareness of these values loses something essential as a follower of Christ, “...no longer good for anything,” warns Jesus, “but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot” (Mt 5:13). Although this teaching is challenging, Paul reminds us that it comes not from our own efforts or wisdom, but from the power and gift of God (1 Cor 2:5).