You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. (Matthew 5:13)
Who among us doesn’t have a salt shaker (cellar) sitting on the dining room table? Just recently, one of the local news outlets did a piece on the fact that Americans ingest far too much salt. It is listed as one of the five things that puts people in the hospital (salt, fat, cholesterol, nicotine, and alcohol). Does any of this go through our minds as we hear Jesus proclaim that we are to be salt of the earth?
Our uses for salt are usually restricted to two things: we use it to flavor food, and we use it to melt ice. However, throughout history salt has been used for many different purposes. In addition to flavoring food, it was used as a preservative. Some cultures used it as a form of currency. Others used it to cauterize wounds in order to help them heal faster.
However, perhaps the most prevalent use for it in Israel in the time of Jesus was as a catalyst for fire. A block of salt lay at the base of the community oven that was used to bake bread, the source of most of the calories that these people ingested every day. Sometimes it was mixed with dung to make it burn better. Its catalytic character made it a necessary commodity for the communities of the Middle East, including Israel. Once it had lost its catalytic properties, its savor, it was in fact thrown out on to the pathways where it provided traction for those who were walking on the road.
Is Jesus asking us to be a source healing for our world? Is he perhaps suggesting that we should act as a preserving agent in our society? Can it be that he is suggesting that we should be a catalyst in our communities? I would suggest that all three questions can be answered in the affirmative. Just as salt served many purposes in the ancient world, we are called upon to be the locus of reconciliation and healing, to be an agent that preserves our communities from evil, to be a catalyst that makes it possible for the Church to bring all men and women to God. Even if we are nothing more than the grit that provides traction for people as we falter through this life to the next, Jesus is suggesting that we are an important part of daily life with God and neighbor.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator