“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” (Matthew 5.13)
“Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? (Luke 4.14)
One of the silliest commonplaces in American pulpits, Sunday school curriculums, and even commentaries (though I would hope there are better ones) is the claim that, when Jesus talks about salt, he is not concerned with its flavor, but with its use as a preservative.
Then why bring up taste?
The ancients used salt for flavor. Job 6.6: “Can that which is tasteless be eaten without salt…?”
The entire structure of claims built on the idea that Christians are somehow supposed to “preserve” society is built on a vacuum. Let’s revisit Matthew 5.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
These are not abstractions. The city on the hill is Jerusalem. The light is the lamp stand in the Temple. And the salt is the covenant duty of the priesthood:
You shall season all your grain offerings with salt. You shall not let the salt of the covenant with your God be missing from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt (Leviticus 2.13).
All the holy contributions that the people of Israel present to the Lord I give to you, and to your sons and daughters with you, as a perpetual due. It is a covenant of salt forever before the Lord for you and for your offspring with you (Numbers 18.19).
Part of the priestly job description was to offer creation back to God but to transform or flavor it in the process of doing so. Thus, the question of who is the true priesthood was even articulated as a question of who has the job of flavoring the offerings.
In the eighteenth year of King Jeroboam, Abijah began to reign over Judah. He reigned for three years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Micaiah the daughter of Uriel of Gibeah.Now there was war between Abijah and Jeroboam. Abijah went out to battle, having an army of valiant men of war, 400,000 chosen men. And Jeroboam drew up his line of battle against him with 800,000 chosen mighty warriors. Then Abijah stood up on Mount Zemaraim that is in the hill country of Ephraim and said, “Hear me, O Jeroboam and all Israel! Ought you not to know that the Lord God of Israel gave the kingship over Israel forever to David and his sons by a covenant of salt? Yet Jeroboam the son of Nebat, a servant of Solomon the son of David, rose up and rebelled against his lord, and certain worthless scoundrels gathered about him and defied Rehoboam the son of Solomon, when Rehoboam was young and irresolute and could not withstand them. And now you think to withstand the kingdom of the Lord in the hand of the sons of David, because you are a great multitude and have with you the golden calves that Jeroboam made you for gods (2 Chronicles 13.1-8).
So Jesus is telling his disciples that by their good works they are the salt, the flavor that makes the world acceptable. This should be all Israel’s role, but most are too busy killing the prophets. Likewise, in warning of judgment on Israel in Luke 14, Jesus describes the reason for judgment as salt that has lost its ability to flavor:
Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
The churches’ job is to flavor the world so that it tastes good to God. But if we have lost our own flavor, then we are useless.