The phrase ‘Salt of the Earth‘ has always been close to my heart … it is in fact the name I have given to my blog (which I have however sadly neglected.)
The Gospel reading of today in which we are called the ‘salt of the earth and the light of the world’ (Mathew 5.13-16) is a good time to reflect on the meaning of this phrase which is the theme of my blog so am sharing with you a reflection I had done for our Sunday liturgy sheet.
Did you know that the English word “salary” comes from the Latin word salariurn? Sal = salt; salarium = the salary paid to a Roman soldier to buy salt. This is the origin of the phrase “worth one’s salt”.
In ancient Israel, people gathered camel and donkey dung and formed it into ‘patties’ to be used for burning. (This is still a common practice in rural India and Pakistan.) The dung patties burned better when they were salted and placed on a block of salt in an earth oven. The salt acted as a catalyst. Eventually the salt lost its catalytic ability to make the dung burn. The salt no longer good for anything was then discarded. This was the Mediterranean cultural imagery Jesus probably had in mind when he says: that it is possible for disciples to lose their saltiness, to become of no use—not fit even for the dung heap.
The ancients appreciated the value of salt for seasoning food (Job 6:6). All meat-offerings were seasoned with salt (Lev 2:13).
A “covenant of salt” was a covenant of perpetual obligation. (Num 18:19; ….it is a covenant of salt for ever before the LORD for you and for your offspring with you.”)
Salt was used not only as a food, but as an antiseptic in medicine. Newborn babes were bathed and salted (Eze 16:4), a custom still prevailing. The Arabs of the desert consider it so necessary, that in the absence of salt they bathe their infants in camels’ urine
To “eat salt” with one is to partake of his hospitality, to derive subsistence from him; and hence he who did so was bound to look after his host’s interests (Ezr 4:14 – and now because we eat the palace salt, it is not proper for us to see this affront offered to the king;)
Disciples are likened unto salt, with reference to its cleansing and preserving uses. (Mat 5:13). In Col 4:6 St Paul tells us “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one”. In Mark 9:50 we are told “Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another.”
We often hear people say ‘pass the salt please! so they can add some flavour to their meal, bring out the goodness and taste of the food. But too much salt can ruin the food and our health.
We are the salt of the earth … common but valuable, simple but with more than 14,000 uses. We are called to be God’s instruments for changing the world.
If someone asks you to “pass the salt please”, will there be any real, tasty (transforming) salt in your shaker?