Analogies & Parables in Matthew: 1. Salt
Mt 5:13 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 by men.
I have entitled this series ‘Analogies & Parables’ because I know that some people include any ‘teaching picture’ in a list of Jesus’ parables and yet it seems to me that mostly Jesus real parables were mini-stories, but he didn’t limit himself to just using such mini-stories to illustrate his teaching, he also used pictures or analogies as well. An analogy in a dictionary is “a resemblance in some aspect which the imagination finds in two or more things that are essentially different”. In our starting one we find Jesus calling us ‘salt’ We are not sodium chloride but he is teaching us that something about our lives, as his followers, will be similar to the effects and usages of salt.
The fact that Matthew writes, “Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable,” (Mt 13:34) means we should not be surprised that in his Gospel there are about forty of these analogies and parables. Now there are various things that naturally flow out of this verse above.
First, in this opening analogy, Jesus speaks to his followers and starts with the word, “You” which sounds fairly obvious but whatever he means by calling us salt, he means we, and not unbelievers, are salt, i.e. salt is different from non-salt, we are to be different from non-believers. Now, as I say, this may sound somewhat obvious but some believers are ashamed of being different from their non-Christian neighbour and the reason for that, I suggest, is that they have never taken in the reality of the person Jesus has made them when they came to him and were born again. The presence of the Holy Spirit, indwelling us, means that we will automatically be different, as we allow Him to live out Jesus’ life from within us. This is a fundamental starting point.
Second, later in the verse, he speaks of this chemical that has lost its saltiness being “no longer good for anything,” which puts the emphasis on salt being used to do good. Jesus’ point in this Sermon on the Mount, starting here in chapter 5 of Matthew, is that believers, his followers, are to have a good effect in this world. This is a ‘Fallen World’ now Sin prevails in it since the Fall, but Jesus is not happy to leave it like that. When he died on the Cross he didn’t just do it to save individuals (although that was part of it), he did it so that those individuals who were saved would have an effect on this world, an effect that changes this world for good. When we look back, particularly to the last two centuries, at the lives of Christians and what they achieved, we see there were those concerned to educate the illiterate, who were some of the first to establish proper schools, we see those who were moved by compassion for the sick who set up hospitals, and in more recent decades, hospices for those terminally ill to be lovingly cared for, and we see those who were concerned at abuse of workers who were some of the first to establish unions to counter those abuses. In many and varied ways, the Christian Church has worked into society and brought good for all.
Third, continuing with what salt does, we see that it can have a purifying effect because of its own purity which was esteemed in ancient days. In the same way that light pushes back darkness (which we’ll see in the next study) so our purity can have a purifying effect in the community to which we belong. Our love, our goodness, our compassion, our honesty, our integrity, all these things have a purifying effect where we are out there in the midst of our community, when people know the reason why we hold to all of these things – we are Jesus’ followers.
Fourth, and flowing on from that, salt was used as a preservative in ancient times, and our presence, likewise, in society is to have a preserving effect. Sadly we have not been very good at that in the past century or so which is why our influence has become less in many parts of the world, and in many situations we have been marginalized. This is not so only in places around the globe where the Holy Spirit has been allowed to enliven the Church and its witness. We need to regain a closeness with the Lord whereby His love, His power and His revelation is seen in our lives, impacting the world around us and preventing decline as well as purifying.
Fifth, a third effect or usage of salt is to lend flavour to things. Is the reality of our local community that our presence is welcomed, our presence adds something which is really good for society? In a world of stress that desperately turns to ‘mindfulness’ techniques from Eastern religion, do those around us find we are those who come with peace and serenity? In a world that takes millions of tablets to stave off depression, do those around us find we are a people of joy and lightness? This is the flavouring effect.
Sixth, modern science tells us that a right balance of salt in our diet is essential for health and wellbeing. It seems there is always controversy about how much. At the time of writing a recent study has challenged the long-held belief that too much salt raises the risk of heart attacks and strokes, and has said that too little will do that. So do our lives bring a balanced input bringing health and well-being to our communities?
Seventh, there are disputes among scientists as to whether salt can genuinely loose its saltiness but perhaps the truth is that when sodium chloride is affected by other chemicals it ceases to be pure sodium chloride and so Jesus’ point remains – unless we hold to the characteristics of salt, we will lose our impact on this world, the impact Jesus wants us to have. Other people seek to change the world for good by politics or by charitable works, but outside of Christ these things tend to self-centred and godless effort and fail to bring true life to the world that only Jesus can bring. Ultimately, it is Jesus in us, the Holy Spirit in us, when given free reign in our lives, who brings these various effects of salt to bear on our world. What does this simple little analogy say? We are designed to be world changers. May we be that!