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Matthew 5:13-16 – The salt of the earth

Updated: Aug 22, 2021

Matthew 5:13-16

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.


I watched the local Baptist minister do his Sunday sermon last year. The core of his reading addressed was the above. Matthew 5:13-20 is read in Episcopal churches on the fifth Sunday of the season of Epiphany. As the Episcopal-Roman Catholic-Anglican-Lutheran-Methodist (et al) churches have seasons and follow lectionary schedules that have a large heavy spike driven deeply into the ground that is Easter Sunday, from which (working backwards) is the fixed season of Lent (always 40 days), there can be a larger or lesser amount of time between the fixed date of Epiphany (always January 6) and the beginning of Lent. The maximum Sundays in the Epiphany season (the Sundays after the Epiphany) is six, but some years that number can only be four Sundays. So, if a Year A is one of those shorty Epiphanies, then so much for the Salt and the Light reading (at least as far as it being preached by the wafer and wine gang is concerned).

Since Baptists have no such lectionary [that I know of, or care to know of], other than Christmas and Easter are fixed on their schedules, they can preach about this message whenever the mood strikes them. The Baptist minister's message seemed so familiar, I thought it might be some rebroadcast of an old sermon; but, since he mentioned the COVID19 pandemic in the same breath with Labor Day weekend, I assume it was a new rendition of the same ole same ole - whenever he preaches about this the same words always flow out.

This preacher made a point of telling everyone listening how he had travelled around the world as a missionary seminarian, going to poor countries not like our golden, high-tech America. [I imagine Eastern Europe has no need for missionaries.] He said he went to Haiti. There, he indicated the poor Haitians have no refrigeration, so they know all about the value of salt. While he didn't say it [I thought about it as he was talking], the implication was Americans are told to stay away from salt. I know my doctor has said that, because I have hypertension. Haitians, on the other hand, salt their fish and meats as a necessary preservative, regardless of what stress that puts on their hearts and arteries.

The minister pointed out how the poor people in undeveloped nations easily understand the messages of Jesus, because when he told parables they were in a language that agricultural societies easily understood. Us Americans [I presume, from his explanation] struggle grasping what Jesus meant when he said, "You are the salt of the earth."

We have become so spoiled by smart phones and refrigeration that we only know salt is what you put on mashed potatoes, to give potatoes some taste. The Baptist minister added that salt has a taste too.

He also told how salt used to be harder to get back then, so it was valuable. He said soldiers were paid in salt, thus the saying "worth your salt." The Baptist minister said that Jesus saying "You are the salt of the earth" was a statement of value. Jesus told his listeners [those hanging around the mount by the sea - disciples and pilgrims - all Jews] that they were valuable as a light to the world.

Before the preacher read these four verses from his Bible, he prefaced it by saying, "This comes from the Sermon on the Mount, which is the greatest sermon ever preached."

I disagree with that assessment. Rather than turn this interpretation into a lesson on how much one human brain can remember from one sermon preached, I will just say three chapters in one book does not one sermon equate.

Regardless, the lesson of the salt follows the stating of the Beatitudes, which in itself is a full plate to take home and continues munching on, just to savor everything said. The lesson of the Salt and Light is a separate sermon, taught to Jesus' disciples. Sure, the acoustics on the mount to the east of the Sea of Galilee were so good, a crowd of pilgrims down by the shore could hear what Jesus said; but to even begin to understand what that means, there would have to be some context. I believe that context was from the Torah, so more than Jews being told to keep memorizing scrolls of text as salt on tradition that lit the way to being Jews, Jesus was telling his closest followers: "You are the preservative of Christianity and the Light of truth for the world."

The Baptist preacher was saying things that were right, as he preached. I admired him for doing so. After watching and listening to Episcopalian priests speak nonsense for years, listening to flowery prose that only told me, "I went to school and studied more books than you," the Baptist method of delivery was refreshing. Episcopalians preach as if someone in the audience is going to send in a report to some place where sermon awards are mulled over. There, only the most elite educated scholars are recognized, with grandiose judges announcing in an awards ceremony: "You've been nominated for the Noble Sermon Prize!" So, I can appreciate someone actually explaining Scripture.

Still, the Baptist minister fell short of telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help him God. Because I feel how important it is to make this truth be known commonly, I want to leave his sermon behind and begin my own here now. I thank him for bringing these verses to my conscious forefront.

The use of salt, of course, is metaphor and not to be read literally. The truth about salt is human beings need salt to live. The body uses salts for balancing fluids and for muscles and nerves to properly function. The levels of salt in the body are regulated by the consumption of water and the passing of salts out through the kidneys. Without salts taken in, the body begins to break down. With too much salt the body develops problems. So, salt needs to be balanced by water.

This is symbolic of Jesus posing the known condition, "salt losing its saltiness," or "salt becoming tasteless" (from "halas mōranthē"). Rather than add a question mark and change what Jesus said to "how can it be made salty again?" Jesus actually just stated "on which salt is sprinkled" (from "en tini halisthēsetai"). When one's salt level gets low, more salt must be added. The truth of this necessity is why salt had monetary value back in the day. Salt is salt and salt tastes like salt. Too much is bad, too little is bad, just right it the balance that must always be found.

When we read Jesus saying, "It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot," the impression is someone having found some old salt that is no longer salty, so it gets thrown out as dirt, where people walk over it. According to a Google search about "Can salt lose its saltiness?" the immediate answer at the top says, "Salt itself, sodium chloride (NaCl), is extremely stable and cannot lose its flavor." Realizing this, the translation implying salt getting old and no longer tasty is wrong. Therefore, the translation needs to be seen as saying, "for nothing that is potent any longer , if not being cast out , to be trampled upon under this men ." ["eis ouden ischyei eti , ei mēblēthen exō , katapateisthai hypo tōn anthrōpōn ."]

Nothing in that statement mentions salt. It implies that if one's level of salt gets too low [loss of saltiness, or salinity] then one dies, from a lack of strength [no potency]. If salt is not added to one's system, then a dead body is cast out for burial. This returns one's flesh and bones into the ground from which is came, which is as worthless as the dirt men walk upon. That should be the literal implication of what Jesus said; but the metaphor of that needs to then be seen.

This can be seen easier by realizing the Greek word "mōranthē" (translated as "lost its taste" or "become tasteless") has a basic definition that is "to be foolish." There are two basic uses that Strong's points out, being : "(a) I make foolish, turn to foolishness, (b) I taint, and thus: I am tasteless, make useless."

Seeing this has little to do with salt, the metaphor is relative to Jesus talking to Jews about their religious practices - led by the rulers in the Temple - which had been reduced to "foolishness." This means his reference to salt becomes weaker as a metaphor for preserving fish and meat, where salt is applied on the outside of flesh, while becoming stronger as the lifeblood of their religion, where Jews reflected how strong or weak Judaism was. The metaphor was not about preservation, as much as it was about remaining alive and vital.

The metaphor is the blood of faith, where belief is like salt mined and distributed to those needing belief in their bodies to keep Judaism alive, but that belief was so void of true saltiness that Judaism was dying because their belief was little more than memorized words, none of which had instilled faith within them. By understanding that metaphor, one can look at how John wrote of Jesus telling those lacking saltiness, "Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you." (John 6:52, NIV) The lifeblood of Judaism, as shown by the Jews arguing with Jesus, knew nothing about the salt of faith in the Torah, Psalms, and Prophets, so they were eating the food of foolishness. None of them had more than some tainted belief in their blood, making them so anemic they had faith-poor blood, which could only be fixed by drinking the blood of Jesus - the blood of true faith.

God had sent Jesus to be the restoration of faith in those who maintained the Law of Moses, without having a clue why that Law was written. Jesus was sent to enlighten the Jews to the meaning of Scripture, as the salt that must be eaten and drank, lest Judaism would surely die and be trampled underfoot.

Now, in the words Jesus taught about this death of religion, if it did not add the necessary salt of life into their bloodstream, is "katapateisthai," which is translated above as "trampled under." In this series of teaching presented by Jesus [which the Baptist minister called the greatest sermon ever spoken], in Matthew's seventh chapter, Jesus gave this instruction: "Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces." (Matthew 7:6) There is written the Greek word "katapatēsousin," which translates as "they shall trample upon." The two verses link together in meaning, relative to faith (or the lack thereof).

The same theme of a lack of salt (as faith being necessary for a religion to stay alive) is present in Jesus saying, "Do not let dogs (animals) run your Temple (sacred). Do not let pigs (filthy animals) be the ones to tell you what Scripture (pearls) says. Because if you do that, then they will destroy the truth (the source of faith) and thereby send your bodies to death (underground where feet walk)." The same concepts of sacred pearls has to be seen as the salt of Christianity (the revitalization of Judaism).

Without turning this into a chemistry lesson (feel free to look it up and go as deep as you wish), salt in water conducts electricity, and electricity will produce light. This conductivity then becomes relative to why salt is necessary for muscles and nerves; but that is a story to be told by biologists. There are a plethora of articles that debunk "Himalayan salt lamps," but simply from there being discussion about some form of homeopathic treatment involving salt and light, there is reason to see the transition in what Jesus taught here. There is a requirement for the salt of faith for there to be a light generated by that faith.

When Jesus added to the verse that says "You are the light of the world," saying " A town built on a hill cannot be hidden," that was a reference to Jerusalem. The Greek word "orous" not only means "hill" but also "mountain." Jerusalem is a "city" (the true translation of "polis") that is on and surrounded by hills called mountains: "Jerusalem's seven hills are Mount Scopus, Mount Olivet and the Mount of Corruption (all three are peaks in a mountain ridge that lies east of the Old City), Mount Ophel, the original Mount Zion, the New Mount Zion and the hill on which the Antonia Fortress was built." [Wikipedia] This means Jesus was referring directly to the Jews of Judaism being a light of God that must be seen, because God has built that light on a hill for the whole world to see.

When Jesus then said, "No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house," this cannot be missed as being a reference to a symbol Jews are known by: the menorah.

In that statement, the lampstand is a mainstay in the Temple, which means the "house" is both the Temple of Jerusalem and the Jews who see that "house" as sacred.

When this reading ends with Jesus saying, "In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven," he said a Jew that does not shine the truth of God's Word to others, by the way one lives and the way one helps others to live is incapable of good deeds and glorifying God. This is a direct correlation to the amount of true faith that is coursing through one's body, creating an electrical current that shines the light of truth to the world.

When I first began to write this, it was after Labor Day 2020. I didn't like the direction I was taking, so I did not complete writing it, leaving it as a draft. I didn't delete it because I wanted to write about the meaning of Jesus saying "You are the salt of the earth."

The Baptist minister did not have a lectionary leading him, so he was not presenting this reading during an Episcopalian's Year A, in the fifth Sunday after the Epiphany [February 9, 2020; February 5, 2023; not read in 2026]. Because of that misdirection, he was not placing any focus on how this reading about what Jesus taught on the hill overlooking the sea had to do with one's own personal epiphany. Clearly, one has to hear Jesus telling one directly, up close and very personal, "You are the salt of the earth," meaning you have to have faith transforming you into a lampstand for God's light of truth. Without that epiphany within one's soul, one is foolishness waiting to die and come back to try again once more time [reincarnation].

This is where eating the flesh of Jesus brings that pH balance into one's bloodstream. The flesh of Jesus is Scripture. Still, reading Scripture, memorizing quotes, and listening to preachers make up stuff about what it all means, is never going to put the salt of faith in that blood. That means one must drink the blood of Jesus, which is filled with just the right amount of faith, so one immediately understands what Scripture means. To drink the blood of Jesus means to be reborn in his name. Then one has died of self-ego, but no one is trampling upon your returned to dust bones.

Having an Epiphany means being filled with tasty salt and just the right amount of holy water, so one has become a conductor of Jesus Christ and one's body has become a lampstand for the light of Christ. One becomes a shining beacon on the hill that leads others to be likewise filled with that Holy Spirit.

I felt it was time to release this to the world.

R. T. Tippett

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