I distinctly remember the final exam for my Rhetoric course my freshman year in college. My professor was less than appreciative of the fact that many of us first year college students entered his course (meant for upper classmen) due to earning college credit from AP English. His disdain for us was well-known and there seemed little we could do to overcome this disadvantage.
I poured myself into the final exam with every ounce of effort I could muster. That is, until I encountered a question that I couldn’t tackle. And I was panicking. (You may want to prepare to snicker at me here.) I was unable to tackle an entire section of the test because I was unfamiliar with what it meant to be caught, “with egg on your face.”
Another student finally decided to bear the brunt of the professor’s scorn and ask him the meaning on the phrase. Incredulous, he queried the room only to learn that even the upperclassmen were unfamiliar as well. All too happily, and simultaneously unhappily, he explained it meant “to appear foolish.”
I did feel foolish…
You’d think that experience in and of itself would leave me wary of using analogies, metaphors and idioms. But unfortunately, you’d be wrong. I use them way too often… I am drawn to them.
“Stop speaking in analogy; just say what you mean.” Nope, that isn’t something someone else has said to me. It’s what I have to remind myself multiple times a day, just ask my Sunday School class. Analogies, metaphors and idioms can be a great asset to communication. When poorly utilized, they are equally likely to be confusing or distracting to the general flow of conversation. A good analogy can carry such power and creates a strong connection of an idea to tangible reality. As hard as I may try, I haven’t figured out how to avoid their use!
And that’s what drew my attention the other day from merely half-listening to being full-on attentive upon hearing an actress say during an interview, “they are ‘salt of the earth’ people.” The use of this idiom and the reverence with which she spoke it was captivating. It was enough to make me want to be that!
“Salt of the earth kind of people.”
But, what is that? To be fair, the actress was British and, maybe it was just her accent, but the phrase rolled off her tongue so naturally. You don’t hear the phrase in every day conversation, at least not any more. So it deserves some explanation.
The phrase is a noun dating back to 1350-1400 from Middle English, meaning, “an individual or group considered as representative of the best or noblest elements of society.”
Oh, I surely would like to be that!
In Matthew 5:13 Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” Jesus went on to say, “14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
You know what? I get that, when Jesus says “You are the light of the world,” that’s imagery that speaks volumes. But I’m gonna be honest here, the part about “You are the salt of the earth.” Well, not so much; it didn’t immediately sound like something good. Perhaps due to our high sodium culture constantly emphasizing the need to cut out the copious sources of sodium from our diet. Or maybe from a history lesson I learned years back about the Middle Ages, when “salt was spread on land to poison it, as a punishment to landowners who had transgressed against society in some way”. Whatever the reason, I struggled to find the good in being the “salt of the earth.”
But I’d miss out on the richness of the analogy if I didn’t look further:
“The value of salt, especially in the ancient world cannot be under estimated. Roman soldiers received their wages in salt. The Greeks considered salt to be divine. The Mosaic Law required that all offerings presented by the Israelites contain salt. (Lev. 2:13) When Jesus told his disciples that they were “the salt of the earth”, as recorded in Matthew 5:13, they understood the metaphor. While the universal importance of salt is not as readily apparent in our modern world, the mandate that Jesus gave to his first disciples is still relevant and applicable to His followers today.
What are the characteristics of salt that caused the Lord to use it in this context? Theologians have different theories about the meaning of “salt” in Matthew 5:13. Some think that its whiteness represents the purity of the justified believer. Others say that salt’s flavoring properties imply that Christians are to add divine flavor to the world. Still others believe that Christians are to sting the world with rebuke and judgment the way salt stings an open wound. Another group asserts that, as salt, Christians are to create a thirst for Christ. Salt, however, has another vital purpose which is probably what the Lord had in mind-it stops decay. When Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth”, He meant that all of His disciples were to serve as preservatives, stopping the moral decay in our sin infected world.
Those first disciples would have been intimately familiar with this function of salt. Without refrigeration, the fish that they caught would quickly spoil and rot unless they were packed in salt. Once salted, the fish could be safely stored and then used when needed. The spiritual health and strength of the Christian is to counteract the corruption that is in the world. Christians, as salt, are to inhibit sin’s power to destroy lives. This in turn creates opportunity for the gospel to be proclaimed and received.”
We have been given a wonderful privilege to be the salt of the earth…
“Salt of the earth” kind of people…
If you could have heard the softness, admiration and love in her voice as the actress referred to these people as “salt of the earth” kind of people… Oh to be known like that, to leave a legacy like as rich and impactful!
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about priorities. Specifically about whether or not what I believe to be most important in my life is, in fact, proved to be most important by how I spend my time, where I utilize my money, and where I put my focus and effort…
And I think that is key to our legacy as well, knowing our priority. To God, I am His child; through Christ I’ve been redeemed. That’s central to knowing who I am, to knowing how to be a “salt of the earth” kind of person. And, really, legacy has to start there. Because, otherwise, the good things we do, well they’d only be for us… and as far as my ability to stay “salty” goes… well, it’d be used up pretty fast.
Jesus went on to say, “But if salt loses its taste, how would its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trodden underfoot by men”. And that can have a person running scared… back into the spice cupboard, shut the door, put the lid on tight. End.Of.Story.
But we’re not “salty” of our own accord. God, who knows all about us and loved us so much that he sent Jesus to be our atoning sacrifice… That God, who makes us alive in Christ; who has made us a new creation… That God has called us his masterpiece created in Christ Jesus to do Good works… He calls us to live a legacy of the love He gives to us. We’re to be known by our love. We’re to let our light shine so that others can praise God through what He’s done in us.
Salt of the earth kind of people.