Following Jesus

What Does Salt of the Earth Mean?

May 4, 2021 by

Like every Christian, I have had the privilege of hearing the word of God and experiencing Christ’s forgiveness. So the following verses challenge me to reflect on how I share this experience of Christ with others:

“You are the salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13). “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” (Lev. 2:13).

Salt is essential to human life. Without it, none of us could survive. So what does it mean to be “the salt of the earth” and why “with all your offerings you shall offer salt”?

salt flatsSalinas Grandes (Salt Flats), Argentina. Photo by Sofia Truppel on Unsplash.

My wife and I, and those of our children still at home, live at Villa Primavera, a Bruderhof in Asunción, Paraguay. The four years since we moved here have been transformational, testing and stretching our faith and perspectives. We have opened our home and church to friends and neighbors, some Paraguayan and others expatriates from a variety of countries. A few weeks ago I was writing a sermon on salt to preach in our church, Casa de Cristo, and as I wrote I felt it develop more into a challenge to myself than to my adopted countrymen. So I’ve combined some reflections on salt here, and how I feel challenged by these passages in this cross-cultural missionary context in which I live.

Salt seasons food. Think for a minute of foods all over the world. The salt a good cook puts in doesn’t overpower the flavor; it gently enhances or embellishes it. When we partake, we are tasting the original food complemented by the salt. Often we hardly notice the salt’s presence, yet should it be missing the food is bland or unpalatable. I wonder if this is an example of God’s love entering our lives: quiet yet pervasive, often unnoticed yet sorely missed if not there.

Perhaps this indicates a path for us Christians as we go and live in different places, cultures, and countries around the world. Like a good cook evaluating a new food, we should see and appreciate that which is of value and beauty in whatever culture we find ourselves and only then sprinkle, as if it were salt, the message of Christ, which is love. It’s not our “Christian-ness” we are spreading, but a passing on of the love that we have received. So this passage from Matthew seems to command us not to create a new culture or impose our own on anyone, but rather allow the love we’ve felt to transform the situation we find ourselves in little by little and allow God’s love to gently steer.

It may be easy for us to think that our culture is “the right way” to do things because it is familiar to us, but that is not what the Bible teaches us. As a newcomer in Paraguay, there were many things I saw in wider Paraguayan society that seemed absurd to me or at best, the result of a lack of education. Fortunately, I (mostly) kept my mouth shut! Now I see the reason behind almost every “error” and very often agree that it’s either the best option in this context, or I can at least acknowledge that it’s done out of courtesy. Like salt, we must present the message of Christ in gentle, subtle ways so that, wherever we go, life becomes more like what God intended in the beginning.

Salt melts ice. I grew up in the northeastern United States, where salt is spread on the icy roads to give safe passage to cars and pedestrians. It does its job by changing, dissolving into its individual ions, preventing water from freezing and breaking the hard bonds of ice until it melts. To really do God’s work, we too need to dissolve, change, and become what God wants us to be until the hard bonds of sin melt.

Salt is a rock. When I think of salt the image of sea salt first comes to mind, but the salt we generally see on our tables is halite, a mineral that is extracted from the ground or rocky outcroppings. The idea that salt can be both solid bedrock, a possible anchor point in our life, and an essential part of our diet, is food for thought.

To be useful, halite must be crushed and ground. It must become a small part of something else; it must change. It’s the same with us: through growth in faith and acceptance of forgiveness, we change and can take part in God’s work. If we remain tough and stubborn as a rock, we are useless.

Lastly, it’s worth remembering that halite deposits can take thousands of years to form – and then we merrily ingest it at a meal and it’s gone. So too, we need to allow ourselves time to grow and develop (some of us are pretty rock-like!) even if our useful moment in God’s plan ends up being quite brief. No matter; we’ve been a tool in God’s hands, how wonderful!

There are other possible meditations on salt: salt as a preservative; salt as an antiseptic which stings while it cleans and heals; the need to spread salt in small quantities versus what happens when too much is added to a dish. They would make wonderful conversation points for a chat with you. We would love to share a tereré and converse about salt, mission, or any other topic. If you’re coming to Asunción (or are here already) and would like to arrange a visit, you can contact us here.


Reuben Cavanna lives with his wife, Hanna, at Villa Primavera, a Bruderhof in Asuncion, Paraguay.

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