Have Salt in Yourselves
Wednesday, July 16, 2008 at 10:18AM
Jeff Smith in Discipleship

Historian Stephen Ambrose wrote in his account of the Lewis and Clark expedition that one of the first things the company did upon reaching the Pacific was to refine sea water to obtain salt for their diet.

Salt is a necessary part of the human diet, but its value is made all the more obvious by the savor that it adds to most foods – turning bland french fries into an absolute delectation. Pitiable Job explained his complaint by saying, “Can that which is tasteless be eaten without salt, or is there any taste in the juice of the mallow? My appetite refuses to touch them; they are as food that is loathsome to me” (6:6-7).

The ancient Hebrews so valued salt that they used it to season their sacrifices before God. “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” (Leviticus 2:13; see also Ezra 6:9; 7:22; Ezekiel 43:24 and Mark 9:49).

When Jesus appealed to the illustration of salt, he might also have had in mind the Middle Eastern “covenant of salt,” a pledge of friendship sealed with a feast including salted foods (see Numbers 18:19 and Second Chronicles 13:5). Orr writes, “Once an Arab has received in his tent even his worst enemy and has eaten salt (food) with him, he is bound to protect his guest as long as he remains.”

Salt thus became indicative of friendship, loyalty and agreement. Against this backdrop, Jesus gave salt an esteemed place in his ministry by including it in the sermon he preached upon the mount. He told his audience, “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” (Matthew 5:13).

Being “the salt of the earth” is axiomatic by now of having all the qualities of honesty, kindness, neighborliness and good humor. One who is the salt of the earth is charitable, dependable, trustworthy and gentle. Following the beatitudes as it does, being the salt of the earth must surely depend upon a healthy dose of each of them – poverty of spirit, hunger for righteousness, purity of heart, peacemaking and so forth (see verses 2-12).

His challenge to season the earth is coupled with teaching that disciples should illuminate their communities with truth and good deeds (14-16). Salting the earth is not just about professing politeness, but is more akin to reflecting the character of Jesus in everything. “And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness” (Second Timothy 2:24-25).

One finds that salt is often lacking in the places he frequents most – often in the classroom or on the playground, in the workplace and break room, even at home and in the car. A salted discipleship is a pledge of friendship and neighborliness that honors the parable of the Good Samaritan who showed that everyone is my neighbor and due that much affection (Luke 10:25-37).

And yet the manner in which Jesus raises the salt of the earth is also couched in the negative terms of failure to remain as such. If the salt loses its taste – if the disciple loses his distinctive, Christ-like character – he is not worth very much. Salt that is spilled upon the floor is not swept up and returned to the shaker or added to the stew. It is thrown out in just the same way that God must expel the disciple who exchanges the savor of sincerity for the crassness and callousness that envelop most others (Revelation 3:16). “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away” (Luke 14:34-35).

There is another occasion in which Jesus raised the topic of salt in discipleship. His twelve apostles, for all their faithfulness and diligence, were often found arguing over who would be the greatest in the coming kingdom. Falsely imagining an earthly arrangement, they struggled to gain the upper hand in securing plum assignments and choice seats in the mythical administration (see also Matthew 18:1, 20:1; Mark 10:37). 

Having passed through Galilee, the band arrived in Capernaum, where Jesus asked, “‘What were you discussing on the way?’ But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest” (Mark 9:33-34).

Jesus tried to explain to them that greatness in the kingdom would not be defined the way it is on earth. “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (35). Just here, Jesus reveals that disciples are not salted simply by indoctrination, but also through proving their faith, even under great distress. “For everyone will be salted with fire,” just as surely as the Levitical sacrifices required literal seasoning (49).

Peter wrote, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith - more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire - may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (First Peter 1:6-7).

Disciples are seasoned by the word and by the challenges that accompany true devotion. They become worthy to season the world around them when they imitate the savor of Christ Jesus (see Hebrews 6:5) and learn the folly of pride and the honor of humble service to others. Jesus punctuates his reproof of the twelve: “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another” (Mark 9:50).

Article originally appeared on ElectronicGospel (http://electronicgospel.com/).
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