In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus said to His disciples, “You are the salt of the earth.” (Mt. 5:13) Each of us may spend many hours reading, studying and praying over God’s words in the hope of breaking open the Bible and drawing closer to God. When we do this, we too are becoming the salt of the earth.
When I was thinking about what is meant by the salt of the earth, I did some research. Did you know that salt is mentioned nearly 50 times in the Old and New Testaments? Salt was used as a condiment to flavor foods and as a preservative to keep foods from spoiling. Newborn babies were rubbed with salt to promote good health. In contrast, salt was used in the mummifying process in Egypt.
Salt was rare and very costly for most of the ancient world. Countries without salt had to import it, and a salt tax was prevalent. Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, acknowledged that there was such a tax in his day. Romans used salt as an important item of trade; salt was even used as money. Many Roman soldiers may have received salt as part of their pay. Salt was indeed precious. Did you know that more wars have been fought over salt than over gold?
Salt served many other purposes as well. In Judges, we learn that when a city was destroyed and its inhabitants killed, the final act was to sow the city with salt. This rendered the ground barren and useless. (Jdg 9:45). In contrast, Elisha used salt as an antidote to the harmful water at Jericho. (2Kgs 2:19-22).
Salt was used to indicate the inviolability of the Covenant with God. Grain offerings and burnt offering to God were to be salted as a reminder of that Covenant. (Lev 2:13). In Leviticus we also learn that a covenant sealed with salt was indeed everlasting. God gave the kingdom of Israel to David and his sons forever, in a covenant made in salt.
In Biblical times, men carried pouches of salt and when a promise or contract was made, each man intermingled his salt with the salt of the others. Their salt was no longer separate and just as they could not pick out their salt from the rest, they could not go back on their word. Salt was emblematic of permanence or loyalty.
In Exodus, the Lord tells Moses how the incense of the temple should be prepared. It was to be blended from various aromatic substances and then salted to be kept pure and sacred. Again we see salt as a mechanism for keeping things pure and worthy of God (Ex 30:35).
Salt had another very important purpose but you may not be aware of this function. It was used as a catalyst in building a fire, in order to cook in the clay ovens of the time. The fuel in the ovens was not wood but animal dung mixed with salt. Among the household chores of a young girl was the collecting of dung and preparing it to be used as fuel by molding it into patties, salting it and letting it dry out in the sun. A block of salt was also placed at the base of the oven as a catalyst for the fuel. Salt is an aid in making fires burn and in keeping them burning.
Often in the New Testament, the references to salt are most likely referring to its catalytic abilities. The catalyst keeps the fire burning; the catalyst sees the fire through to completion. A catalyst is the conduit, the means for making something happen.
Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth.” (Mt. 5:13). If we are indeed the salt of the earth and the followers of Jesus, then we need to be the catalysts, the keepers of the fire of faith. As we walk the path of the believers, we need to keep the covenant with God alive in our hearts. By our words and deeds we are to influence the world.
In his letter to the Colossians, Paul exhorts the new Christians to speak graciously and always “season their speech with salt” (Col 4:6). In other words, we are to speak with intelligence and as catalysts.
Finally, in the gospel of Mark, Jesus said: “For everyone will be salted for the fire. Salt is good, but if it loses its catalytic ability, how will you restore that? Keep salt in yourself and you will have peace with one another.” (Mark 9:49-50).
Each of us travel on our pilgrimage for closeness with God. As we enter the next phase, the catalytic phase, our goal should be to become that conduit for faith and deeper understanding. We, along with Jesus’ disciples, are called to preserve the society and the world around us from moral decay. We need to keep salt in ourselves. Jesus encouraged His disciples to usefulness, to fidelity and to their role in purifying the world. Remember “YOU ARE THE SALT OF THE EARTH.”
Greetings to all who love to wander along the paths of the Holy Scriptures! The purpose of this blog is to share some of the insights of ordinary Catholics who have begun to delve into the mysteries of the Sacred Scriptures. Hopefully you will find these reflections inspiring and insightful. We are faithful to the Church, but we are not theologians; we intend and trust that our individual reflections will remain within the inspired traditions of the Church. (If you note otherwise please let me know!) Discussion and comments are welcome, but always in charity and respect! Come and join us as we ponder the Sacred Scriptures, which will lead us on the path into His heart, which "God alone has traced" Job 28:23.