5th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
Are You Worth Your Salt?
Of all the inexpensive, everyday things in our home, salt is one of the most useful. It can flavor and preserve food, put out grease fires, melt driveway ice, freeze ice cream. The list is endless. But salt wasn’t always cheap or everyday. The phrase “not worth your salt” comes from the Roman army—a soldier who didn’t perform up to par wasn’t worth his salary—in salt! Matter-of-fact, the Latin word for salt, sal, is the root of the English word salary.
Even today, not all salt is easily procured. A few years ago, my family and I were lucky enough to visit the salt flats near Trapani, Sicily. Mounds of salt, like piles of snow, lined the road leading to the ocean. The flats themselves were a strange juxtaposition of complicated and simple—a series of ever shallower ponds that allowed the water to evaporate and the salt to rise to surface. Later in the blistering sun of August, the harvest would occur and men would chip away at the hardened white sheets of salt, the reflected light etching its lines on their faces, burning their skin, and bleaching their hair.
Harvested this way, salt tastes much better. No wonder it was once a valuable commodity.
So, when Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth” (v.13), we hear “you are the foundation of it all, simple, uncomplicated, and necessary.” His followers heard, “You are of great value. You are worth shaping and harvesting because people need you, and you can change things, can make them better.” I’d rather hear the latter, and, fortunately, that’s the message Jesus intended.
There are many implied metaphors in Jesus’s statement. Salt preserves meat, a critical quality in an age without refrigeration; as “salt of the world” we preserve Christ’s presence in the world. Salt indicated wealth in Jesus’s time; Jesus’s followers promoted the true wealth of His teachings. Salt flavors food; without it food is tasteless and undesirable. As Jesus’s followers we make the world desirable. Salt keeps people from slipping on ice. As Christ followers, we can keep people from slipping into a life not worth living. The metaphors are endless.
But all things have light and dark. Salt makes food taste better by enhancing flavor already there. But, too many shakes and food is ruined. Too much salt can burn. Only when salt is used in measure does it enhance and spotlight. We should take heed. We are only effective leaders, Christian or otherwise, when we highlight other people’s gifts. When we try to stamp our version of the message onto someone else, we become too salty. Similarly, too much salt puts out a fire. In some cases, that’s a good thing, but we have to be careful to judge whether it’s a fire that should be allowed to burn. We shouldn’t seek merely to extinguish a passion but to shape and nurture it so it can be utilized to bring about good in the world.
In careful measure, when our goal is to “glorify your heavenly Father” (v.16), we are absolutely worth our salt.