It’s not easy to stand out as different when I’m seen as being odd, distasteful to those who find me irritating— rubbing them the wrong way because I don’t fit their parameters of “normal.” Not easy for me, not easy for them. I’m being reshaped, remade from the inside out, and my shape no longer fits the stylish clothes I used to wear to fit in with the crowd, be “normal.” This difference can sting like salt on a finger cut. But to others it tastes good like savory soup or salty potato chips, teasing the tongue with desire for more. A new “normal.”
Being that disciple that is “blessed,” one who is living out the qualities Jesus listed in the beatitudes, means being radically different from the broken world that we live in. And it is not always easy or appreciated by others, which is why we can get insulted, persecuted or slandered. In fact, if we don’t sometimes rub others the wrong way by standing up for Jesus and living out his teaching, we should take a good look at whether we are just blending in or whether we are different because of him. He told us we would face opposition (Mat 5:10-12). Then he said that his followers are “salt”!
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” (Matt. 5:1 NIV)
Being “salt” does not mean, of course, that we are free to speak without demonstrating the other blessed qualities—that every time we are criticized, we are innocent. Our fallen nature sometimes still takes the reins (Rom. 7:16-23). Instead of exhibiting strong self-control or mercy, we may react in a way that dishonors our Lord. Instead of loving our neighbor, we may show favoritism or be unkind. Instead of being pure in heart, we may be hypocrites, thinking we are hiding our impurity. We may conform to certain opinions in order to fit into our chosen community, rather than standing out as children of God who do not just “keep peace” but “make peace” in conformity to God’s truth. Those are examples of wandering off the path of true discipleship.
And if we keep on acting and speaking in those ways, we are no longer good for anything!
Good salt is tasty, and many of us automatically think of it as what makes a difference in the flavor of food. Have you ever forgotten to put salt in your homemade stew? Have you ever tried to reduce your salt intake, and noticed how some foods become tasteless?
The emphasis in Matthew 5:13 does seem to be on the flavor of salt, described by Stott as the way our words and actions are drenched with the flavor or aroma that comes from knowing Christ:
But thanks be to God,who always puts us on display in Chris tand through us spreads the aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. (2 Cor. 2:14 CSB)
How about that warning that if disciples are blah, basically tasteless (if salt loses its saltiness), they are useless? There is much discussion about whether salt can actually lose its flavor, since it is a chemical that retains its character. However, in those times salt was often harvested from the Dead Sea and left in piles. So Craig Keener explains:
“Although the salt recovered from impure salt substances taken from the Dead Sea could dissolve, leaving only the impurities behind” (and those tasteless white piles of dust could be mistaken for salt) “the point here is closer to that expressed by a rabbi at the end of the first century. When asked how one could make saltless salt salty again, he replied that one should salt it with the afterbirth of a mule. Being sterile, mules have no afterbirth, and he was saying that those who ask a stupid question receive a stupid answer. Real salt does not lose its saltiness; but if it did, what would you do to restore its salty flavor—salt it? Unsalty salt was worthless.”
And the Greek expression for “become tasteless” can also mean “become foolish”, so this could be a play on words.
“The verb μωραίνειν means “to become or to make foolish” (e.g., Sir 23:14; Rom 1:22; 1 Cor 1:20). The unusual use of it here to describe what has lost its saltiness goes back to the underlying Hebrew root, תפל, tpl, a word that had both meanings (see Black, Aramaic Approach, 166–67). A Greek translator then chose the Greek word μωραίνειν because it applied more readily to the disciples. For the disciples, the salt of the earth, to lose their saltiness was equivalent to becoming foolish. It would in effect be to lose their identity.”
That is the last thing we should want to do, to lose our identity as Christ’s disciples and to no longer reflect him. If this happens, we will not stand out from the corrupt world. We no longer have any value! We become like those food remnants thrown out of a car window onto a sidewalk, only to be walked on by every passerby (“trampled underfoot”).
But in biblical times salt also had many other uses, and considering them can broaden our understanding of its importance:
“Salt was used to season food (Job 6:6), and mixed with the fodder of cattle (Isaiah 30:24). All meat-offerings were seasoned with salt (Leviticus 2:13). To eat salt with someone was to partake of his or her hospitality, to derive subsistence from him; and hence he who did so was bound to look after his host’s interests. Ezra 4:14 reads: We have maintenance from the king’s palace (KJV), or We share the salt of the palace (NRSV). A ‘covenant of salt’ (Numbers 18:19; 2 Chronicles 13:5) was a covenant of perpetual obligation.
Until doing research on salt for this blog, I didn’t know about the way salt symbolized a commitment to be loyal to the person who cares for you, or who makes a covenant (a binding contract) with you. No wonder those of us who are bound to God in the new covenant are “the salt of the earth”!
Salt is also commonly used to preserve food, like ham and bacon, and the bounty of our vegetable gardens. It naturally keeps them from being spoiled by fungi and bacteria.
When disciples are “salt,” one of their effects on their communities is to counteract the spread of evil in the same way that salt prevents microbes from spoiling food. John Stott points out:
“The doctrine of the gospel is as salt; it is penetrating, quick, and powerful (Heb. 4:12); it reaches the heart Acts 2:37. It is cleansing, it is relishing, and preserves from putrefaction. We read of the savour of the knowledge of Christ (2 Co. 2:14) . . . they are to be . . . seasoned with the gospel, with the salt of grace; thoughts and affections, words and actions, all seasoned with grace, Col. 4:6. Have salt in yourselves, else you cannot diffuse it among others, Mk. 9:50.”
So being salt will not always be easy—salt stings when it comes into contact with a wound, and many people around us have been wounded by their choices or the choices of others. They may react negatively because what we say or do makes them feel uncomfortable.
But salt also tastes good when distributed appropriately, when we season our words and actions with the flavor that comes from the Good News and a Christ-honoring character. Let’s choose to pursue that! The more we get to know our Master and become like him, that should be our “new normal.” And it will be enticing to those who are hungry!
 Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Mt 5:13.
 John R. W. Stott and John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian Counter-Culture, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 59–60.