“You are the salt of the earth…” (Matthew 5: 13). Although in the middle of an Ottawa winter, we might think first of salt as an agent for melting ice on roads and sidewalks, its primary historical uses have been as a preservative and for flavoring food. Anyone who has ever been on a salt-free diet knows how tasteless things can be without salt. Although we now have a bank of other preservatives, salt was essential in past ages to keep meat for a long period of time. In the Old Testament, God made an inviolable covenant, literally a “covenant of salt” with Aaron and his descendants (Numbers 18:19). It is believed that eating a bit of salt together was a sign of agreement by the parties in any covenant.
People in Jesus’ time did not buy granulated salt as we do today. There were abundant natural deposits in the Jordan River Valley, especially around the Dead Sea where it was harvested by letting the salt-rich waters of the Sea into shallow pools. The pools were then closed off. The water evaporated under the hot sun, leaving a deposit of salt. When the salt was removed, some sand and other particles adhered to it. People bought salt in small blocks which were kept in cloth bags and placed in the kettle as water boiled. When the right amount of salt for the desired seasoning had dissolved in the water, the bag was removed. Eventually the salt in the bag was depleted, leaving only the impurities which were emptied out on the street on the way to the market for another chunk of salt.
Was Jesus saying, by his remark above, that Israel, which was supposed to be “salt” to the earth, had lost its “saltiness,” its ability to edify others, by its rejection of himself as Messiah, and that the responsibility of being “salt to the earth” now belonged to the “new Israel,” the Church, that is, you and me? In that case, how are you and I doing in bringing new life and hope to the world, by our words and deeds in the name of Jesus?