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Salt, Cities, and Disciples

On the Readings for Sunday, February 9, 2020

Readings:
• Is 58:7-10
• Ps 112:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
• 1 Cor 2:1-5
• Mt. 5:13-16

It is small, simple, and composed mostly of something that doesn’t sound tasty at all: sodium chloride. But the importance of salt in the ancient world is hard to overstate, even if it is usually taken for granted in our own day. Salt was valued so much among the Romans that spilling it was interpreted as a bad sign. The word “salary” is derived from the word “salt”, in reference to payments made to Roman soldiers (either in salt, or so they could purchase salt); a bad soldier was sometimes described as “not worth his salt”.

Similarly, we are all familiar with the expression, “He is the salt of the earth.” That phrase comes from today’s Gospel reading and Jesus’ declaration in the Sermon on the Mount, “You are the salt of the earth.” This was high praise when we consider that salt often played a role in the rise and fall of nations and civilizations. Before refrigeration and other modern means of preserving food, salt was vital to keeping food pure and edible, which in turn had a significant effect on the health, stability, and success of ancient peoples.

This important place and positive effect of salt is seen in passages in the Old Testament. In the book of Job, the question is asked, “Can that which is tasteless be eaten without salt…?” (Job 6:6), and the author of Sirach states, “Chief of all needs for human life are water and fire, iron and salt…” (Sir 39:26). Newborn babies were rubbed with salt (cf. Ez. 16:4), and certain burnt offerings were sprinkled with salt (Lev 2:13; Num 18:19; Ez 43:24), which symbolized the indissoluble, covenantal relationship between God and the chosen people of Israel.

In the positive sense used by Jesus, to be salt of the earth is to work to preserve life, to be pure, and to exemplify holiness. “Jesus signifies that all human nature has ‘lost its taste’”, wrote St. John Chrysostom, “having become rotten through sin.” This plays on the double meaning of the Greek language, in which the phrase “loses its taste” can also mean “has become foolish and dull”. Mankind has lost its moral awareness and sense of holiness, and Christ’s disciples are to restore what has been lost, drawing men and women to the source of eternal life.

Jesus then said, “You are the light of the world.” This builds upon St. Matthew’s reference, in the previous chapter, to “the people who sat in darkness” having “seen a great light” (Mt 4:16; cf. Isa 9:1-2). The reference to “a city set on a mountain” is also drawn from the prophet Isaiah, who envisioned a time when “the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains” (Isa 2:2). That is “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” mentioned in the Epistle to the Hebrews, the eternal home for those who, as members of the Church, journey toward the Kingdom.

“The humble city is the society of holy men and good angels,” wrote St. Augustine in his great work, City of God, “the proud city is the society of wicked men and evil angels. The one city began with the love of God; the other had its beginnings in the love of self” (Bk. XIV, ch. 13). Those who are motivated by a vanity and narcissism live in darkness; they are consumed by themselves and destined for eternal darkness if they do not change their ways.

But those who follow Christ are filled with the life and light of God: “Just so, your light must shine before others…” Why? So that the world—filled with corruption and sin, lacking salt and the taste of goodness—will see the good deeds done by grace and glorify God. “It is only for the sake of God’s glory that we should allow our good works to become known”, noted Augustine. That should be the goal of every disciple worth his salt.

(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the February 6, 2011, issue of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)


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About Carl E. Olson 1128 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications.

3 Comments

  1. Interesting article. In our part of the world salt is vital. I am reminded of Mahatma Gandhi’s Salt March. The 24-day march lasted from 12 March 1930 to 6 April 1930. Mahatma Gandhi started this march with 80 of his trusted disciples. Walking ten miles a day for 24 days, the march spanned over 384 kms, from Sabarmati Ashram, to Dandi. Growing numbers of Indians from towns and cities joined them along the way.

  2. Salt ..and good thing we live in times blessed with such an abundance in the variety and choices in same ..
    There is Epsom salt , with its origins in Epsom England ..and ironically , if not for the enmity against The Church , one can wonder if that discovery alone could have helped that land , to make good use of it , to avoid many dangerous incursions world over , in unsalty ways in later times .
    ‘ Give to Caesar what is of Caesar and to God what is of God ‘ – interesting how Gandhi copied the tax resisting aspect of the colonies ..
    as to those motives to move against Caesar , were there also gods of spirits of pride and fears / greed for power , that can also easily influence massive rebellions through similarly afflicted hearts ..
    There is mention of how the Civil Rights movement , with its connection to Gandhi as well is what set off the rebellious spirits in these lands as well , even possibly having crept into The Church as well .
    The way evil laws get enacted with such speed through the court systems , one has to wonder , if with enough salt around, the issues of injustices of colonialism and racial injustices and all too could have been addressed in a manner of giving to God what belongs to Him and the Father alone thus to have true dominion in hearts and lands .
    The unholy soul ties from having those who themselves might have been afflicted by the spirits behind such , thus the need to forgive them and pray for them – the saltiness of The Church might be needed for same .
    Hope many get to look up the needs and benefits of a good salt Magnesium / Epsom salt – interesting how when our Lord mentions ‘ you are the salt of the earth ‘ it has more depth to it, than what appears obvious , thus needing a ‘development ‘ in doctrine 🙂 – table salt is toxic to the land whereas Magnesium / Epsom salt is good for the soil .
    Magnesium is needed and good for a variety of ailments and hope many get to read up on same to be thus bale to use it prudently ; there are reports of the dangers of high lead levels in the Himalayan salt and makes one wonder how it even got put on shelves – seems in the same manner as the bad laws that get passed !

    Blessed salt , used as a sacramental – may be the upcoming Feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes , a good day in churches to have the ceremony of blessing same , to give to the faithful .

    With the good news about the Knights of Columbus , rather ‘salty ‘ people , AFIK , moving into better practices to grow with the times , hoping they would take up more initiative in these areas as well . 🙂
    Blessings !

    • Would like to add mention of baking soda also ,as sort of being in the salt family as well as linked to ash – O.T. times with its burnt offerings possibly also meant to release ash into the environment ,to protect from epidemics .
      Forest fires , volcanic eruptions and such too , same may be to also help deal with the acid rain – the intricacies of such may be esp. good for the kids to know too so that hearing of such , they do not become unduly alarmed , since the ‘left ‘ has an agenda that the world is running out of everything good and would not sustain life .
      Many online articles about the benefits and ways to use baking soda – said to be good to prevent both infections and allergies and rather unique in that regard in that , most man made medicines can work for either one of the above , yet often leading to worsening of the other .
      Amidst the worries about the flu epidemics as well as that of the Corona virus ,
      schools and public places can have creative ways of making same more accessible –
      ? using a water spritzer with baking soda added , for the nose area as well as for hands and same being inexpensive , can be used in poorer countries too .
      The animal nature , turned to ashes , in the fire of the Holy Spirit , to help bring forth the light of His mercy and grace , for the ongoing cleansing / healing in relationships – may The Immaculate Conception bless us all and our family trees in same .

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