The Sermon on the Mount 13

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. — Matthew 5.13

All too often, we turn Jesus’ comment here into a compliment. “Yeah, Eddie, he’s a real ‘salt of the earth’ kind of guy.” We mean to say that Eddie is a good and honest man, a stand up guy, likely to give you the shirt off his back if you really needed it. But this isn’t what Jesus is saying. In fact, his comments about being the salt of the earth function more as a warning to his followers than praise for a neighbor. “Yes,” Jesus says, “you are the salt of the earth, but be on your guard, lest you lose your saltiness and thereby lose your effectiveness.” Unsalty disciples, it seems, are — in the words of Jesus — good for nothing.

The Greek word used here to describe the act of salt losing its strength means “to be foolish, to act foolishly”. We actually get our English word “moron” from the same word. Jesus isn’t pulling any punches here. He uses sharp language to point out the folly of embracing the alternative reality of the Kingdom of God only to lose sight of its distinctive qualities. Much has been made of the function of salt as both preservative and seasoning; these are important qualities and they further nuance this teaching. But it seems that Jesus is most interested in teaching about the distinctive nature of the Kingdom. Again, God’s Kingdom is characterized by meekness, peacemaking, justice-seeking, and mercy — qualities that run counter to the empire-making despots of earth. Those who participate in God’s Kingdom reign serve as distinctive signs of the eschatological community; we practice today the very behaviors and attitudes of eternity. And we believe that as we do this, God’s Kingdom comes in fullness. It comes in us. Through the distinctive life He calls us to, His will is done on earth as it is in heaven.

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