verse XI – the beatitudes
The beatitudes provide an intense view into what is expected to grow and mature in the life of a disciple of Messiah Yeshua/Jesus. One aspect that Messiah warns us about is persecution. This persecution challenges our entire being, our entire personality, and our faith itself. Still, Yeshua says that we should rejoice because we are hated for His sake – just as the prophets, who were before, were persecuted for the sake of the Lord’s righteousness and truth. To live a messianic life of faith is to open oneself up to the possibility, yes, even the certainty of persecution for Messiah.
Now, having surrendered our lives to Messiah, growing in the humility and temperament described in the previous ten (10) verses, Yeshua now describes His disciples as “salt” and “light.” We find that Matthew 5:13 is the first of four verses that are transitional in nature. The beatitudes described how disciples grow and mature in Yeshua. Now He begins to reveal the purpose of the disciple in the surrounding community and broader world. As we will see, Matthew 5:13-16 prepare us for what Yeshua will teach in the remainder of the Sermon on the Mount. What does it look like to be a human disciple in the midst of humanity?
We begin with salt.
Matthew 5:13, “You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt becomes tasteless, how shall it be seasoned? For it is no longer of any use but to be thrown out and to be trodden down by men.”
What we first notice in this verse is that the mood of the verb is indicative, it is stating a fact – what we are, our condition in Him. It is not an ethical imperative, commanding us to do something. In Messiah we do not have to “become” salt, we are salt in His Kingdom. As renewed creatures in Messiah (II Cor. 5:17), salt is used metaphorically to describe what the believer is within creation, and what that reality looks like.
Have you ever tasted food that was way too salty? So overpoweringly salty that the real flavor of the food was covered? Disguised? Unrecognizable? With food, it might be safe to say that a little salt goes a long way.
CS Lewis gives a wonderful explanation regarding salt in his book Mere Christianity, “Or again, suppose a person who knew nothing about salt. You give him a pinch to taste and he experiences a particular strong, sharp taste. You then tell him that in your country people use salt in all their cookery. Might he not reply ‘In that case I suppose all your dishes taste exactly the same: because the taste of that stuff you have just given me is so strong that it will kill the taste of everything else.’ But you and I know that the real effect of salt is exactly the opposite. So far from killing the taste of the egg and the tripe and the cabbage, it actually brings it out. They do not show their real taste till you have added the salt…It is something like that with Christ and us. The more we get what we now call ‘ourselves’ out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become. There is so much of Him that millions and millions of ‘little Christ’s’, all different, will still be too few to express Him fully.”
Still, why does Yeshua tell us that we are the “salt of the earth?” And just how can salt lose its saltiness?
Salt is a fascinating compound that has numerous uses:
- It can be used for healing purposes.
- It is a cleansing agent.
- It can help remove stains.
- It melts ice.
- It is soothing to a sore throat.
- It can help stop bleeding.
- It helps to sooth bee stings.
- It helps to whiten clothes.
- It can reduce the sour taste of foods.
- It seasons foods.
- It preserves foods.
- It was used as currency in the ancient world, and is the derivation of the word “salary.”
- It is an anti-septic agent.
- And in my home state of New York, it destroys the body of cars.
A little salt goes a long way.
A little salt goes a long way; and when we consider the messianic faith today, especially those who are seeking to live as Yeshua has called us to in the beatitudes, we are not called to be world dominators, earthly dominionists, but rather salt – preservative, human enhancers, social anti-septic to help stop the hemorrhaging, etc. It is when we are broken, pure in heart, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, demonstrating mercy and being persecuted for righteousness sake that we are being salt in the earth.
If we only consider a few of the properties of salt, we might have a better picture of what Yeshua is expressing:
- Salt, the antiseptic: Followers of Messiah wrestle daily with man’s fallen condition. Part of our purpose on earth is to slow the decay of humanity by embodying and teaching His righteous standard.
- Salt, the thirst maker: Messiah shining out from us should stimulate a thirst in those around us – a thirst for His righteousness. As an example, when John Wesley saw the peace of the Moravian brethren as they cross the Atlantic during terrible storms, he desired what they had and attended their studies in order to receive it.
- Salt, the preservative: Salt not only brings out the flavor of food, but it keeps foods from spoiling. Believers, active in their communities, should be a preserving agent that slows the deterioration of human society. Again to Wesley, historians credit his conversion, which led to the Wesleyan revival in England, for saving England from turmoil similar to the French revolution.
- Salt, pain to the open wound: Standing against the moral and ethical decay of modern society often causes followers of Messiah to be targeted in life and media. Why? Salt in the wound. When the Gospel of Messiah is delivered, it hurts until one turns from what is causing the wound.
From this we note, that the believers presence, actions, and message within society and culture has impact, whether it is appreciated or not. Chosenness in the Bible was never limited to the benefit of those chosen, but for the sake of the surrounding world as well. Whether Jew or Gentile in Messiah, this vocational position as salt in the earth is for all His disciples. From the beatitudes to fleshing out of the Sermon on the Mount, the followers of Messiah are to shine out the love of the Father – to Israel and the world. This outshining is not limited to a message of acceptance, but corrects in order to point the way to and along the Narrow Way. This shining light in the lives of the Jesus followers – the eschatological people envisioned in Scripture – will cause the glory of the Living God to be revealed in the world.
Yet, can we lose our saltiness? Can salt not be salt?
Most of us know that salt is always salt. I am sure that Yeshua, being the Word of God made flesh, understood this as well. What then is He saying?
While salt chemically remains salt, it can become contaminated by mixture with other substances. Historians explain that in ancient Judea, what was often sold as salt was not pure salt, rather it was an adulterated mixture. Probably gathered from around the Dead Sea, the “salt” was often a whitish powder that contained sodium chloride, but it was sodium chloride mixed with impurities. This substance looked like salt, was called salt, but it did not have the taste, and could not be used for the same purposes of salt effectively. It was more like road dust – and I am picturing road dust in early spring upstate New York after a winter season of salting the roads – the dust has a white powdery appearance to it; but it is not just salt, it is salt and dirt. I believe this picture is similar to what Messiah is referencing.
Perhaps this illustration will help illuminate the words of Messiah. We are to be active in our local communities, and by extension, the wider world, not cloistered away; but active in faith, standing upon the truth of Messiah and His righteousness. When we add to what we are, through worldliness, or with fear, anger, bitterness, etc., we are contaminating, mixing and ultimately diluting the saltiness that we are to have.
When we try to “become” salt , or more like salt, we risk contaminating what He has already made us to be. We risk dusting up the pure salt of Messiah – and become like white dust along the road. As we daily walk with Him, in progressive sanctification, the dust washes off of the very water soluble salt – part of the paradox of the life of faith.
Shalom. Be well.