The Substance of Discipleship: Salt – Matthew 5:13

13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.”

This key passage is virtually a summarizing statement for the importance of living according to the righteousness of the newly arrived kingdom and serves as a natural transition from the beatitudes to the remainder of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It is first of all an affirmation of the unique identity of the disciples, an identity that depends on the gracious activity of their heavenly Father. They and they alone are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. For the disciples, the salt of the earth, to lose their saltiness was equivalent to becoming foolish. It would in effect be to lose their identity. Through these important metaphors Jesus informs his followers of the substance of discipleship.

Salt and light are such common substances that they doubtless generated many sayings during the time of Jesus. Salt was used in the ancient world to flavor foods and even in small doses as a fertilizer. Above all, salt was used as a preservative. Rubbed into meat, a little salt would slow decay. Strictly speaking salt cannot lose its saltiness. Sodium chloride is a stable compound, but most salt in the ancient world derived from salt marshes or the like, rather than by evaporation of salt water, and therefore contained many impurities. The actual salt, being more soluble than the impurities, could be leached out, leaving a residue so dilute it was of little worth. In modern Israel savorless salt is still said to be scattered on the soil of flat roofs to help harden the soil and prevent leaks. Since these roofs serve as play grounds and places for public gathering, the salt is still being trodden under foot – worthless for its original purpose.

Jesus’ disciples are to act as a preservative in the world by conforming to kingdom norms. As one commentator says, “if they are called to be a moral disinfectant in a world where moral standards are low, constantly changing, or non-existent … they can discharge this function only if they themselves retain their virtue.” The emphatic “you yourselves” deliberately excludes all other groups claiming to have the truth, especially the Pharisees in Jesus’ time but also their rabbinic successors in the time of Matthew’s recording. The disciples—the blessed recipients of the kingdom—are thus of vital importance for the accomplishment of God’s purpose in the world. Jesus thus calls his disciples to arrest corruption and prevent moral decay in their world by being a testimony following after his example.

The natural conclusion of this metaphor impacts your interaction with those around you.You are called to be an ingredient that brings a spice of life to the tasteless acts of humanity by embodying hope, speaking truth, and exhibiting love. That takes its strongest stance as being one who actively engages with your surroundings. Rub into the world and show them the effect that the transformative love of Christ can have.

Straight Steps: Have you kept the flavor of Christ as you are rubbed into the world or are you tasteless? You can reclaim your identity as a disciple of Jesus Christ by boldly and uniquely living in the fullness promised through Christ Jesus.