You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt lose its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is good for nothing any more but to be cast out, and to be trodden on by men.
Praised be Jesus Christ!
Now and forever. Amen.
I've seen explanations of what it means to be the salt of the earth by people who go through all the different uses that salt has, such as that it's a preservative, or it's used to soften meat, or it has healing properties. However, I happen to think it's pretty clear what meaning Jesus intended to give it. He says, "but if the salt lose its savour..." He's really talking about the flavour that salt gives to food.
So, what? Is Jesus saying we should be flavourful? Well... kinda, yeah.
Let's take a step back for a moment and shed some context on this passage a little bit. Jesus says this during His sermon on the mount. In fact, He has just concluded the Beatitudes. Thus, it is within the context of the beatitudes that we ought to understand this passage.
Jesus tells us "blessed are the poor in spirit[,] blessed are the meek[,] blessed are they that mourn[,] blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice[,] blessed are the merciful[,] blessed are the clean of heart[,] blessed are the peacemakers[,] blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice' sake[,] blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for my sake." Then, immediately after this, He says "you are the salt of the earth". He follows this up with a warning, "if the salt lose its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is good for nothing any more but to be cast out, and to be trodden on by men."
So here's my reading of it. To be the salt of the earth, we must be humble, and meek, and mourn, and hunger and thirst after justice, and be merciful, and clean of heart, and be peacemakers, and suffer persecution of justice' sake, and suffer persecution for Jesus' sake. And if we don't do these things, then we are "good for nothing but to be cast out."
There is a two-fold answer to this. Jesus makes it clear that each of these beatitudes comes with its own blessing. Humility brings the kingdom of heaven. Meekness brings possession of the land. Mourning brings comfort. And so on. But these are all for the benefit of the one being beatified. However, this is also a benefit to others, to those who come in contact with such a person. It is here that I believe Jesus brings in the "savour" of being salt.
We could eat food plainly, but most of us like to spice it up. Plain food or rich food, both offer the sustenance we need to live, but most of us, being offered a choice between something plain and something rich, would opt for the rich food over the plain. We do this because it's pleasing to our senses. It is more enjoyable. Salt is a common mineral that we add to food to make it more savoury, more enjoyable. What happens if salt loses its ability to enhance food? Well, we'd throw it out.
Likewise, we must be "salty". We as Christians are supposed to enrich the lives of those around us. We are supposed to be attractive, in order that our lives might draw those around us to Christ. We do this through the beatitudes. The beatitudes make us beautiful, and attractive to our neighbors.
But how? Well, I'll briefly say a word or two about how each of the beatitudes does this.
Blessed are the poor in spirit. The humble person recognizes exactly the truth about themselves. They neither boast, nor self-deprecate. They recognize that everything they accomplish is by the grace of God, but also recognize that their yes, and their action is a necessary part for that grace to be brought to fruition. So, such a person neither comes across as arrogant, nor falsely humble. Simply put, they have no need to talk about themselves, and are more interested in you. That's attractive because you know they have a clarity of mind that ensures they won't exaggerate your own greatness or diminution, but will see you just for who you are.
Blessed are the meek. This is not humility, nor is it strictly gentleness, though the meek person is certainly gentle. Rather, the best way I've heard this quality described is within the context of horse-breaking. A horse that has been brought under the mastery of the owner is said to be "meeked". This image is especially useful if you think about the wild stallion, full of passion and energy, being brought under the control of a good master. It is strength and passion under control. People who are in control of themselves--not wimpy or weak, just in control--are attractive people, because you can have confidence they will not lose themselves in fits of passion--and perhaps cause you harm.
Blessed are they that mourn. To be able to mourn is a strength. This doesn't mean someone who is always weepy, or who cries at every commercial on TV that has puppies and babies in them. Rather, it is to be mournful when appropriate: at the loss of a dear loved one, or in the face of evil and in the havoc that such evil ravages in peoples' lives. This kind of mourning reveals a tenderness to suffering, and requires a person to be vulnerable before others. These kinds of people are attractive, because they allow you a certain freedom in also being vulnerable--without judgment.
Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice. These are the people who hold to a high standard of morality, whose principles are of a supreme quality. In the face of sin, injustice, crime and wickedness, they strive always to uphold the truth, justice, and righteousness. They do not seek vengeance, but righteousness. These are not the people who say, "I respect your truth", and then go on their merry way, meanwhile people are suffering because of moral relativism. They stand firm in the certainty of what is good, and pursue it with all their energy. This is beautiful, and you can be certain that, in times of necessity, they will not abandon you, but will fight for you.
Blessed are the clean of heart. Purity of heart is to be able to look at another person and see only the beauty of their personhood. They are creatures of the Almighty God, created in His very image and likeness. To look upon them is to catch a glimpse of the eternal Creator. They are not objects to be used for lecherous self-satisfaction. They are subjects to be loved and cherished for their own sakes. People who have such cleanness of heart draw others to them naturally, for they know they will not be used.
Blessed are the peacemakers. We all seek peace. We understand that conflict is sometimes necessary, when no other option suffices. However, the peacemaker seeks peace first, in all circumstances, and only resorts to conflict as a final means. But for the peacemaker, conflict can only ever be a final means--for the sake of peace. Peacemakers are attractive because they work to bring about that which we all seek by nature, peace in our lives, both internally and externally, and even if you are tormented inwardly, a peacemaker can allow your outward world to be peaceful enough to exorcise the conflict within.
Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice' sake. If you are principled enough to suffer for what you believe is right and good, people will be drawn to you. Why? Because when push comes to shove, they known you will stand firm for a cause that is for their good. Even if you're not doing it for them, the fact that your principles are beneficial to them is enough.
Blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for my sake. For very similar reasons as the last beatitude, but in a stronger sense, people will be drawn to you if you are willing to suffer for the sake of another person. There is no greater love than to lay down one's life for a friend. That's a beautiful thing.
So be beautiful. Be the salt of the earth in the lives of your friends and families. Make your life beautiful by practicing the beatitudes. Don't live lives of mediocrity. Don't be bland. Otherwise, you may find yourself cast out.
God bless, and thank you for reading!