Heritage Presbyterian Church

February 9, 2020
Fifth Sunday After Epiphany
Scripture reading – Matthew 5: 13-20

In our time, when someone refers to the phrase “salt of the earth” it describes a really solid person, someone who has a common touch with people, someone good, in other words.

If you shorten it to just the word “salty,” it describes a type of Siamese cat that is a cross between two completely different types of cats: the classic Siamese and a white cat, which produces a really beautiful “salty Siamese.”

If you use the word “salty” to describe language, it describes the problem my uncle had when he came home from the Navy; his language was pretty rough, included lots of swear words, and he had to watch what he said around kids and elderly folks.

So today, we have Jesus describing the people who were listening to him talk as “the salt of the earth.” In this setting, he wasn’t necessarily saying they had any sort of a common touch; he wasn’t saying their speech was too rough; and he wasn’t comparing them to an unusual hybrid Siamese cat.

He was saying they were good and solid people who could be counted on; but more than that, he was saying they were extremely valuable.

But was there more to what Jesus said than this unusual comparison? Perhaps so. Let’s explore it a little further.

First of all, Jesus always seemed most comfortable with the common people he encountered. Yes, he held his own against the rich and powerful, especially the

religious authorities of his day. But don’t you get the sense that he relaxed a little more when he was around the regular folk? Those people worked hard, worked with their hands, dealt with real life issues such as food, shelter, family, and survival. They loved their families, they helped their neighbors, and they waited for the Lord to come back to them as the Lord had done for their ancestors. These were the regular folks, not something special, the kind of people Jesus grew up with. But perhaps in their “regular-ness” – they were actually very special! They didn’t expect anything special out of life, so they were flattered and excited to hear this brilliant teacher and prophet describe them as something as special and valuable as salt. And when Jesus called them “salt of the earth,” it resonated with them in a way that it probably doesn’t with us. They were special and precious…they just didn’t know it until Jesus told them.

And remember that this phrase came immediately after they were also told how many different ways they were “blessed.”

Next, Jesus was describing salt as something common and something highly valuable. There are not too many things that fit that particular description. It’s a little difficult for anything to be common and valuable. Perhaps Jesus was saying that is one aspect of God’s people: God needed lots of them to work His will in the world. God had plans and God used common folks all the time. (Look no further than Jesus’ parents, Mary and Joseph, or the Apostles as evidence of this.)

Another side of this blend of two different things could refer to Jesus himself. When he appeared, he immediately got people’s attention because of his words and his miracles – two completely different things, one common and one special. Also, Jesus himself was a blend of two different aspects: he was common as a human being, but he was also the very special Son of God. The people who followed Jesus and worked with him became a blend themselves of the common aspect of humanity and the blessed work of the Lord himself.

Just as a salty Siamese cat takes two different aspects to produce a beautiful new creature, just working with Jesus produced new people who were still common folks but with a faith that could move mountains.

Finally, we have that description of “salty” language as being something coarse, rough, and hard to hear. Swearing or using rough phrases can make some people

very uncomfortable.

Yet I once knew a priest who told me that if I hit my thumb with a hammer and I say a swear word, he didn’t consider that a sin – even though it was pretty salty and usually made my mother mad. But that priest went on to explain that the true sin comes from the active thought, not swear word itself. If we think about it and say whatever offensive thing we can think of, if we speak without considering the feelings of others, if our reaction to a disagreement is to begin swearing, those are pretty salty words and they are sinful indeed.

But…I’ll just bet that Jesus’ description of the scribes and the Pharisees as something less than ideal was a pretty salty in their hearing. I’ll bet that when the common folks were told they were blessed, those important folks who were left out of the blessings thought that sounded a pretty salty. When Jesus saw the money-changers in the Temple taking advantage of the people who came to worship God by cheating them, I’ll bet his words may have been a pretty salty that day.

That type of language doesn’t necessarily have to include swearing in order to be deemed hard to hear or offensive or cruel or sinful – or salty.

Jesus also included a warning in his salty message in that Sermon on the Mount. He warned that salt can lose its saltiness; if this happens, this wonderful, valuable commodity is fit for nothing and might as well be thrown out and trampled underfoot like very common dirt or sand.

What a waste of a valuable commodity! If Jesus referred to people who were receptive to his message as “salt of the earth” and yet warned them that they could lose their saltiness, what does that say to us?

Can we also be known as the salt of the earth? Certainly! How should we treat people? How should we serve others? How can we serve the Lord in our day and in our place? We only have to look within our hearts and look around for what may be needed. We can be as salty as Jesus wished for those people back in his day.

But we have the same warning: we can also lose our own saltiness. When we

turn away from things that make us uncomfortable because they might require us to stand up and do something, we lose our saltiness.

When we are only good for ideas but don’t life a finger for implementing those ideas, we lose our saltiness.

When we put on one face here at church or when we are around others, but in our hearts we only seek our satisfaction and our own rewards, we lose our saltiness.

When we lack the everyday courage to just defend what we know is right in our hearts, we lose our saltiness.

When others annoy us instead of warm our hearts, we lose our saltiness.

When we consider ourselves first instead of the will of the Lord, we are indeed salty.

To be the salt of the earth is to be something special.

To put it to the best use is to treat that salt as something special.

To just store our saltiness away and let it spoil and go bad is to waste that valuable gift from God.

So, Christians: how salty are you today?

And will your salt be special…or wasted?