My Dear Sisters and Brothers! I don’t think that anyone can figure it out so let us leave it. Instead let us look into the gathering of people who listened to the words of Jesus from today’s Gospel. Those people were described by Jesus as ‘salt of the earth.’ Although we don’t have an accurate attendance list we can still identify some people listening to the Sermon on the Mount. There was Simon Peter who three times denied Jesus. There were John and James who wanted to be the most important people in Jesus’ Kingdom. They also wanted to bring fire from heaven upon the people who didn’t welcome them. Even if we compered the attendance roll from the Sermon on the Mount and later from the Mount of Golgotha we discover that the later was much shorter. The people abandoned Jesus at this crucifixion. Do the dictionary descriptions fit to those people then? Were those people ‘very good and honest’? Were those people ‘representative of the best or noblest elements of society’? It doesn’t look like, does it? Today Peter would be most likely qualified for an impeachment. Still, Jesus called them ‘salt of the earth.’
As the modern expression ‘salt of the earth’ doesn’t fit to the people from the Gospel account as the modern appreciation of salt doesn’t reflect that of the Jesus’ listeners. What is the difference between us and them? Processed food, humid climate and the convenience of cars, escalators and elevators. Jesus’ listeners didn’t have that. They didn’t worry about salt intake like we do. For them salt was great. It made food taster and it preserved food for later. (They didn’t have refrigerators either.) Furthermore salt wasn’t cheap and easily accessed.
However the qualities of salt as a taste improver and preservative spoke to their imagination. In their culture salt was used to seal a bond of friendship forever. It expressed their desire to improve the quality of the friendship and to preserve it forever. God used that powerful symbol of salt when he offered them a covenant with himself. It was called a ‘covenant of salt.’ That’s why the People of Israel would sprinkle salt on the sacrifices they offered to God to remind themselves that by God’s faithfulness to them their relationship with him was to last forever.
When Jesus said to his disciples, to whom he had just revealed the secret of happiness in the Beatitudes, ‘you are the salt of the earth’ he assured them of his commitment to them, of his love for them. They were the salt of the earth not because they were extraordinary good and honest or the best elements of the society. They were ‘the salt of the earth’ because they were loved by Jesus, because he had bound himself to them by a new covenant. This love, of which he assured them, made them distinctive. They welcomed Jesus life-giving, though challenging, message. They trusted him to strive for more than what was accepted in their society. However when they sinned, when they failed to live up to the Gospel, they didn’t despair but turned to Jesus’ forgiving love.
Should we be surprised that the word of God in the Acts of the Apostles, tells us that after his Resurrection, for forty days Jesus was sharing salt with his disciples as he ate with them? They were broken people, self-condemning themselves for deserting Jesus, for not believing him. How much assurance they needed to accept that God could still love them! This assurance was given to them when the Holy Spirit ascended upon them on the Day of Pentecost. Jesus sharing salt with the Apostles was bonding with them and them with each other. Sharing salt made for a deep, personal and enduring relationship. How much they needed that symbolism to cure the memories of their past shortcomings!
We, the disciples of Jesus living in the Twenty-first century, may have a different approach to salt consumption but we too need Jesus’ salt of loving forgiveness so that in the midst of our own Australian society we can be distinctive like salt is to improve and preserve what is good and holy in our society. This assurance we are given when we come together to celebrate the Eucharist. Here Jesus shares salt with us so that we can be ‘the salt of the earth.’