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Have you ever had the joy of visiting the Salt Castle in Austria? Not far from Salzburg are many old underground mines used to extract salt from ancient seabed deposits. One is open to tourists with its ancient wooden slide used by miners to descend to work, its mirror-like salt sea, its salt cathedral, and its bronze brine pump in continuous use for over a hundred years.
Where in the world is the largest underground salt mine? The picture at right may be familiar to some from Southern Ontario. Yes, here in our own backyard is the Sifto Salt Mine of Goderich which extracts the mineral riches from almost two miles (over 3 kilometres) under Lake Huron where there are 160 kilometres of roads. The same source for de-icing slippery wintery roads and bringing out the most delectable flavours of our culinary arts.
Just think of smelling and seeing a freshly baked lemon meringue pie. My mouth starts to water as I can almost taste it! Once upon a time, things were significantly different than they appeared. One such beautiful lemon pie was served with all the anticipation of both baker and diners. However, one bite brought all anticipation to an abrupt halt as plates were gently pushed aside! An immediate apology ensued from the baker, “I must have put salt into the meringue instead of sugar! I am so sorry!”
We all make mistakes and this one was forgiven as well!
“As far back as 6050 BC, salt has been an important and integral part of the world's history, as it has been interwoven into countless civilizations. Used as a part of Egyptian religious offerings and valuable trade between the Phoenicians and their Mediterranean empire, salt and history have been inextricably intertwined for millennia, with great importance placed on salt by many different cultures. Even today, the history of salt touches our daily lives. The word "salary" was derived from the word "salt." Salt was highly valued and its production was legally restricted in ancient times, so it was historically used as a method of trade and currency. The word "salad" also originated from "salt," and began with the early Romans salting their leafy greens and vegetables. Undeniably, the history of salt is both broad and unique, leaving its indelible mark in cultures across the globe.” (https://seasalt.com/salt-101/about-salt/history-of-salt)
“Few things in creation are more ordinary than salt. Most of us have interacted with it in the last couple of hours, whether we realize it or not. We use it to make leather, pottery, soap, detergents, rubber, clothes, paper, cleaning products, glass, plastics, and pharmaceuticals. It sits largely unnoticed on hundreds of millions of café and restaurant tables around the world.”
Table salt, Kosher salt, Sea Salt, Himalayan salt, Coarse salt, Pink salt, Celtic Sea salt, Iodized salt, Fleur de sel, India Black Kala Namak salt, Flake salt, Black Hawaiian salt, Smoked salt, Pickling salt …
Better not ask me to pick up some “salt”! How can something so common be so daunting? Sometimes there are just too many choices in life!
Sodium chloride is an essential ingredient in the human chemical processes but too much can cause issues we are told – “A high salt diet can contribute to high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, osteoporosis, stomach cancer, kidney disease, renal stones, and obesity.”
Salt masquerades in most of the foods and snacks we consume without thinking, adding to our daily intake - French fries, potato chips, taco chips, commercially prepared foods of every kind, processed meats,… We eat without giving much thought to this flavour enhancer, don’t we?
Many are familiar with the legendary story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19. Amidst all of the haste to vacate the encroaching eradication of this evil city, a celestial messenger encourages Lot (Abraham’s nephew) and his family to flee - get out of Dodge, we might say - without turning for that last, longing, nostalgic look.
We read, “But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.” Tourists to the area are certain they see her particular pillar even to this day!
Well, perhaps …
As strange as it may seem to think of a person as a pillar of salt, Jesus picks up that concept in the Sermon and the Mount in Matthew 5:13a making this interesting insight about Kingdom disciples, “You are the salt of the earth, …”
Rather than work from the premise of what salt is used for in our cultures, let’s go back to the first century context to see if we can get some further insights.
Andrew Wilson suggests that there were five common uses for salt during that era:
Flavouring – Colossians 4:6, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”
Preserving – Cultural - to keep meat from decaying.
Sacrificing – Leviticus 2:13, “You shall season all your grain offerings with salt. You shall not let the salt of the covenant with your God be missing from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.”
Destroying – Judges 9:45, “And Abimelech fought against the city all that day. He captured the city and killed the people who were in it, and he razed the city and sowed it with salt.”
Fertilizing – Cultural - to improve the condition of soil - see below.
Thayer’s Greek Lexicon suggests that the mention in Matthew 5:13a, “You are the salt of the earth …” fits into this latter category.
“Several ancient civilizations used salt as a fertilizer for the soil, and depending on the conditions, it could help the earth retain water, make fields easier to plow, release minerals for plants, kill weeds, protect crops from disease, stimulate growth, and increase yields. The reason this matters is that Jesus specifically describes his people as the salt of the earth, which in a rural, farming culture would have been significant.”
Can we understand Jesus’ statement within this context?
We’re meant to be in those places where conditions are challenging and life is hard.
We are sent to enrich the soil, kill weeds, protect against disease, and stimulate growth, and as we scatter, life springs up in unexpected places. Barren lands become fruitful.
When the people of God are redeemed, as the prophet says, “the wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus/rose” (Isaiah 35:1).
So when Jesus said we are the salt of the earth, what did he mean?
Did he mean that God will use us for flavouring, preserving, sacrificing, destroying, or fertilizing within our culture?
In a word, all of the above!
Try being “salty” and see how God transforms your “world” through you!