A bit over 2000 years ago Roman soldiers roamed what we know as Europe and the Middle East. A great army of soldiers. Working men who needed to be paid. For many payment came in the form of salt. It was called the salarium argentium.
Salt was a form of currency and for those of you who have ever been paid a “salary” the origins of this word comes from a time when soldiers were paid in salt. In the ancient world salt was a thing of value, Romans paid their soldiers with it, Greeks traded it for slaves, and according to Leviticus salt was to be part of any offering ever made to God.
Salt was valued and salt was valuable and Jesus said to his followers and friends "you, you are the salt of the earth". You! his followers, you! his audience, you! humanity with whom Jesus shares his life. You are salt! You are valued by God and you are valuable.
This is and should be the starting point for our self-understanding as human beings and as followers of Jesus and children of God. You are the salt of the earth. This is not an exclusive claim it is a universal claim that echoes down from the mythology of Genesis. Adam and Eve were given a unique place within the creation - dominion, stewardship, caretakers with a privileged relationship with the creator. You are salt. You are valuable. Remember this. This is Jesus’ starting point in today’s reading and it should be ours when we think of other people, of other humans.
Maybe Jesus asserts this so strongly because it is so easy to forget just how valuable we are, just how valuable other people are too. When people around him doubted themselves, when they felt disempowered by the Roman incursion into their holy city, or challenged by the elites with power who didn't seem to care, challenge by a system which distinguished and discriminated one group from another it is easy to forget you are the salt of the earth – Jesus is saying remember just how valuable you are.
When we feel threatened by our lot in life, when we struggle for meaning, when we lose our sense of self-worth have we forgotten that we too are salt. When we hear of a terrorist attack in a Canadian mosque, when we see people who are homeless clashing with police in Melbourne, when borders are closed and walls are built do we not wonder if we too have forgotten - these people are salt.
Maybe it is in our amnesia that we lose our saltiness, maybe it is when we see our lives are just about me and I and mine we have lost our saltiness. When we cease contributing to the good of the whole in preference to the good of me. What do we do when the saltiness has gone from humanity? What does God do?
Jesus says that when the saltiness is gone the salt only worth trampling under foot but then again God sends Jesus who says to us, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil." In him God restores our saltiness. In him God reconciles and renews. In him God says to us remember who you are. Salt that loses its saltiness is worthless, it is only worth trampling into the ground but God in Jesus is salt and light and causes us to be salty again.
You are the salt of earth – you are valued and valuable. In Jesus our saltiness is restored and we are invited and encouraged and empowered to be salt again.
The question is, “what does salt do?” Salt has numerous properties and uses so today I want to simply highlight four: Salt heals. Salt adds flavour. Salt fertilises. Salt preserves. In God’s grace through Jesus we are re-released into being the salt of the earth, bringing healing adding flavour, fertilising and preserving. Let me just unpack those themes a little further. Healing, flavouring, fertilising and preserving.
So let me start with the notion of salt healing. In the Roman pantheon of gods the God of healing was called Salus which directly relates to the Roman word for salt – sal. The word salus was connected with healing and is also connected with the word salvation.
Now salt was used as an antiseptic to clean wounds in the ancient world. Many of you will have heard the phrase rubbing salt into the wound. It is usually heard as a negative thing, something that causes pain and any of you who have had salt on an open wound know that it can hurt. Yet as a child I can remember the healing properties of swimming in the ocean when I had cuts and grazes. Salt in the wound can hurt but it heals as well.
In Jesus’ life we hear of many miracles where Jesus brings healing to others and in and through Jesus own life he is antiseptic to our sinfulness, he cleanses and heals us. This process can at times feel painful as we admit our wrongdoing and are exposed to the cleansing love of God.
If we are to be what we were created to be as the salt of the earth then we too have a role to be healers. To reach out to those who are hurt physically or mentally and help cleanse and renew people’s lives as we are able. Not all of us can be doctors or nurses or miracles workers, some of us have special gifts and training in these areas but all of us as salt are about the desire for healing and restoration. You are the salt of the earth.
Salt adds flavour. Salt has been a common flavour for foods for thousands of years. Just a pinch of salt can add so much to a meal. It can give it life and zest. I don’t know about you but I always notice how bland porridge is when I forget the pinch of salt. Through Jesus life we see him engaging in the joy of life and bringing life and joy to others. He changes water into wine at a wedding. He shares meals with his friends and with those who were considered outcastes in the community. In John he says to the disciples that he has come that they might have life abundantly.
Once again you may have heard that someone is the flavour of the month, or the flavour of a party. If we are to be salt, if we are to add flavour to the life of each other, then I believe this is about encourage others to enjoy life and to live it. To embrace the moments of joy and celebration and to remember the value of life.
Salt fertilises. It helps growth, it nurtures. Once again in the ancient world we find that salt was used as a fertilising agent. Fertilisers assist in the growth and Jesus the teacher is always encouraging people to grow in their understanding of God. He is a teacher and sage. To be salt means engaging in the task of teaching others. It means taking the opportunity of sharing you faith and nurturing the faith of others.
Too much salt in fertilising or in our cooking can end up being a bad thing so there is an element here of getting the balance right. When we share our faith and teach others about Jesus too much can be received poorly. Teaching takes time and patience and opening up ideas over time. Last time I preached on this passage here we reflected on the idea of being light shiners and glory givers and we contemplate how to bring God into our everyday language a little more often without adding too much. Nurturing faith, fertilising growth, is not about dumping and downloading our views on others but weighing up carefully how much to share and when. You are the salt of the earth – nurturing growth.
And lastly, salt preserves. In Jesus’ time so long ago salt was one of the only things that could preserve fresh food. It is difficult for us to comprehend life without refrigeration but for millennia salt was the main thing that preserved food and kept it usable. Turning to Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that we heard this morning Paul makes the claim that when he came among the people he knew nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified, and dare I say risen as well. This is the message that we preserve. That God in Christ has drawn us back into God’s life – given us to be what we were always mean to be the salt of the earth.
You are the salt of the earth. You are valued and you are valuable. You are healing and you are flavour. You are fertilisers and you are preservers.
I want to add one more story about the value of salt. In the middle ages it is said the custom for feats or dinner party was this. The closer you sat to the salt cellar the more important you are. Today as we share bread and wine and remember together Jesus love for us remember that God invites close to the salt cellar that as we dine at this table the salt is within reach for such is our value to God.
Being salt is not what brings us salvation but being salt is about living our salvation. The saltiness has been restored. The Holy Spirit has been poured out, sprinkled like salt into your life. Hear this good news and as you live do not hide the lamp of your faith under a bushel but be a light shiner and glory giver because you are indeed the salt of the earth.