I remember a dear soul from my previous congregation that, while having great difficulty walking, would seem to be one of the first to fellowship time where he would stand right in front of the chips. This man could not have salt at home, so his one time for breaking that rule was church coffee hour, and he never wanted to miss a moment! Salt is something in our world that we understand fairly well. On one hand salt is necessary, a little here and there is needed for a healthy life. Interestingly, in human history there were times when salt was as precious as gold.
We learn early in life the benefits of salt as it relates to food and through learning the other benefits, but we also learn and know that as good and necessary as salt is, since salt is so pervasive in food and drink, salt can actually be a deadly weapon in our lives. Hence, the low salt-diet of my former parishioner.
Beyond people, salt can be good and bad too. Salt can be used to regulate soil so that crops grow more plentifully, but too much salt can kill all of the plants. One of the problems farmers on the east coast have with hurricanes is that the coastal farms often lose their entire crops when the winds and storms blow the ocean water onto the land. So with salt there is a balance to what is good and what is bad.
In Matthew 5:13-20, Jesus is using the example of salt to relate to the laws and their roles within the community. Too much salt overwhelms the senses and loses its effectiveness. The same problem happens with the law; when the law is driven by other law, control, power, and so on, eventually it loses its purpose and becomes about something very different. It goes from being about participating in a healthy community to becoming an unhealthy one.
Interestingly, Jesus does not decry the law to be bad or in need of abolishment, but rather the law needs to be transformed or adjusted so that it “gets right” once again. So his understanding of what needs to be done with the Law and prophets is to accept that the law is complete, and that which God has commanded will be completed, BUT there is a balance that needs to be achieved; this comes later as Christ once again addresses the “golden rule” which follows later in the Sermon on the Mount.
It is interesting how often we let the “law” come between fellowship and faith. For many of our brothers and sisters in faith that are Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, or Intersexed, the teaching of the law had built a wall between them and a relationship with God. This is interesting, because if the law is about bringing people closer to God, when the law is used to demean or degrade an individual or group, it can separate them from God even more.
The same is true when we let “the law” control our lives, as the Pharisees did, being such sticklers to the law they could not see to help another out because the day was to be holy. I like the way Eugene Peterson translates Matthew 5:16b: “By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”
Being the salt of the earth is as much about keeping the law as it is finding balance, with compassion and acceptance. It does not always mean that you have to understand what others are going through or even always accept, but it does mean that you need to respect them and know that God loves them the same way God loves you. Moreover, it is important to trust and know that judgment is with God, but our place is to be the salt of the earth, knowing how we add to one another, and knowing when we are just too salty.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen