Part 1 of 2
By Kay S. McKean -- Sterling, Virginia, USA
“The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the sea.”
An old French folktale tells of a mighty king who adored his only daughter. The princess returned his love, and one day as they were dining together in the great hall, the princess declared: “I love you like salt!” The king was confused, and then angered by this statement. Salt is just a useless rock, he thought. It’s nothing important! He felt so slighted by this statement that he banished the princess from his kingdom. She tearfully ran away, never to be seen again. Years later, the king was at war with the surrounding kingdoms, and his castle was besieged. He could not receive the supplies that he was reliant on, even the things that he did not know he needed, and one of those things was salt. Without it, the livestock and the people were sick and dying. Only then did he realize the value and depth of his daughter’s love.
When Jesus said, “Salt is good,” (Mark 9:50 NIV), he knew what he was talking about. Although we are bombarded with warnings about too much salt in our diet, it’s a mistake to assume that salt is bad. In fact, almost every part of the human body contains salt. Salt is a necessary component in the functioning of our cells. Without both water and salt, our cells cannot get nourishment and we would die of dehydration. Salt is sodium chloride (NaCl); chloride is essential for digestion and respiration, and sodium, which the body cannot manufacture by itself, causes the body to transport nutrients and oxygen. We lose salt from our bodies constantly through bodily functions, and it must be replaced in order for us to be in good health. Salt has been needed from ancient times to preserve foods, to provide flavor, and as an antiseptic to cleanse wounds. Throughout history, salt has played an important role in economics, politics, and medicine.
Of course, in modern times so many of our processed foods contain too much sodium, and therefore salt has been given such a bad reputation. But from ancient times, both animals and humans knew they needed it. Many of the first trails that humans followed were made by animals looking for a “salt lick”. How they knew they needed it is a mystery. If a person is starving, they experience hunger and understand the need for food. But if someone is salt-deficient, they will get a headache and feel dizzy, while never really experiencing a “craving” for salt.
Today, salt is something that is so easy to obtain, so inexpensive and so common. We can easily forget that in Jesus’ time, it was one of the most sought after commodities. Unfortunately, like salt today, Christianity is often portrayed as common and cheap. But true Christianity is valuable, needed, and crucial for survival. Some people are yearning for that salt, but they don’t know why. They can’t figure out what’s causing that empty, longing feeling. If they don’t discover what they need, they will die.
“You are the salt of the earth. 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 NIV) Knowing what we now know about salt in Jesus’ day, this scripture takes on greater significance. Christians are the salt of the earth. Salt is used as a preservative. So Christians have the same role: we are to protect ourselves and others from corruption that comes about by sinful forces in this world. Salt is used in flavoring. So Christians “spice things up” in this world, bringing flavor and savor to the world. Salt also produces thirst. Our presence in this world should make others thirst for Jesus. Without devotion to Jesus and dedication to live according to his word, we lose that saltiness.
In the context of Jesus’ approving statement about salt, we understand that he is not giving dietary advice. He is warning us about losing something so valuable that life can’t exist without it. While salt itself doesn’t change its character, it can be diluted and lose its saltiness. Satan works hard to dilute the knowledge and reverence for God, His son Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. It is our faith in Jesus, our devotion to Him and to His will that demonstrates the nature of God to our families and friends. WE ARE the salt of the earth. WE ARE what will change the world for the better. We must not lose that quality by diluting our saltiness! What good are we if we blend in to the world?
“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:6 NIV) Can you imagine what life would be like if this was the goal of every conversation? Our speech should be full of grace, which implies that we are merciful and generous to each person we meet, and when we talk about others we haven’t met. But we also are told to “throw a little salt” into our talk. I take that to mean that I must say something that will make people just a little bit thirsty for something more. And of course, that something more is God.
Interestingly, the Bible doesn’t say to make sure our conversations are seasoned with sugar. We are not on this earth just to be good, nice people, although of course we must be good and nice! We aren’t called to be the sugar of the world, but the salt of the earth!
Mark Kurlansky, “Salt: A World History” Published by Penguin Books, 2003