God blessed the world with all kinds of people—each of them a beautiful example of what it means to be the salt of the earth.
A commandment and a blessing are not the same thing. I may grab my sons’ attention and insist they clean their room now. Or I can hold their gaze and tell them they are the delight of their dad’s heart. Both of these interactions have their place, but they are vastly different. Commands point us in good directions, but blessings tell us who we are.
Sometimes, however, we miss moments when God pronounces blessing, because we expect to hear “shoulds”—things we must do to earn favor or be found acceptable. That’s why the Sermon on the Mount must have sounded radical to the crowd on the mountainside: In contrast to common assumptions of that day, Jesus pointed out that kingdom blessings aren’t limited to the wealthy and religious but are also for the outcast, the sick, the marginalized; the only qualification was faith. And He chose the word “blessed” for the poor, the grieving, and the peacemakers—the ones most likely to get run over in this violent world. Then He spoke another blessing over His followers: “You are the salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13).
Notice Jesus says that they are the salt of the earth. He does not say they are to be the salt. He does not plead with them to take on salt-like qualities. Rather, Jesus looks across this ragtag band, raises His hands over them, and pronounces the truth of things: You are the salt of the earth. Can you imagine the wonder that must have fallen over them? How must it have felt to be seen with such honor by Jesus, to hear these powerful words spoken over you? Hope, possibility, and joy must have surged through the crowd.
Several months ago my son Wyatt sat in the kitchen with me, and he made a witty observation. My laughter was immediate. He smiled, but the longer I laughed (and lost control—you know those moments when you laugh so hard that you double over and can barely breathe), the wider his smile grew.
When I finally settled down, Wyatt was still beaming. Something beautiful had passed between us. Our interchange was about something more than a well-timed joke. Wyatt felt my delight in him. My laughter told him there was something deeply good in him, just as Jesus’ blessing told those on the hillside of the deep good God had placed in them.
Salt had numerous uses in the first century. It provided flavor, served as a preservative, and operated as a purifying agent. Today, this pantry staple still occurs naturally—it simply exists as it is, where it is. And while the seasoning can be described in lots of different ways, we can all agree that salt improves most everything it touches.
I am amazed by the simple lives I encounter—people living in quiet ways, often unhurried and unnoticed, as they seek to devote themselves to the way of Jesus and be loyal to the kingdom of God. Faithful people spend their days at work and tend to their children; they love their neighbors and engage with issues they believe reflect God’s justice and shalom in the world. Students diligent with their studies prepare to give their lives to good work in Jesus’ name. Single moms hold down a job and hold together a family so their children will know the power of selfless love. Neighbors regularly stop by to check on the elderly widow down the street. Business owners create good jobs and contribute to an honest, stable society. Gardeners and painters, craftsmen and nurses, web designers, and retirees—all practice the art of ordinary presence. Each of them is the salt of the earth.
With our zealous addiction to gusto and our fascination with brilliance, we often forget that if we keep the long horizon in view, it is ordinary faithfulness—ordinary presence—that makes the deepest impact. I understand that we are Americans, so one thing we know is how to marshal a plan and get things done. However, most of us don’t need more to do; rather, we need to recognize the gift of our presence (and the gift of others’ presence to us). It is not duties that we need, but rather encouragement to listen and pay attention, to do our work and give ourselves to friendship. We should watch for the particular joys and stories that surround us. In other words, our frantic effort to be salt can keep us from actually living as the salt we are. Our stress and strain can keep us from offering our truest selves to others.
We must not miss the fact that Jesus spoke His words to a community, not an individual. The “you” Jesus blesses is plural. Frederick Dale Bruner makes this explicit by translating it as, “You folks are the salt of the earth!” This means that the pressure does not rest on any one of us to span the globe. Rather, we each are simply to do our own part. We are to live well in our little piece of the world, practicing ordinary presence on the soil God has given us to tend and dwelling among the people God has given us to love.
The body of Christ is vast and expansive; it exists across history and geography. The community of Jesus is sturdy and, empowered by the Spirit, equal to the calling God has given us. The work each of us contributes is significant, but not ultimate. Breathe easy. Be who God has made you to be—no less and no more.
When we live true to the blessing God has spoken over us, we operate in harmony with our truest selves. However, some of us live under a heavy burden, believing that we must constantly wrest ourselves away from our deepest longings in order to somehow become what the Lord expects us to be. Quite the opposite, God has fashioned us in His image and infused us with His own life. No wonder we’re salt for the world.
Jesus didn’t ask us to be salt. That matter is settled. Yet Jesus did warn of a tragic possibility, that God’s salt would “become tasteless” (Matt. 5:13). We have the option to reject the truth of our existence and our blessing. We can withhold the gift God intends to give through us. To do so, however, doesn’t mean that we are not salt. It means we have turned selfish and small-minded because we refuse to share our ordinary presence with others.
So rather than deny it, receive Jesus’ blessing spoken over you: You are the salt of the earth. Your sheer presence in the world is a gift to all of us. Be bold. Open your heart. Give yourself away. Allow your unique life to flavor us all with grace.
by Winn Collier