You are the salt of the earth,
but if salt has lost its taste,
how shall its saltiness be restored?
It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.
“Who says life is fair?” Every parent will say this to their child at some point. Somehow we get the idea that life should be fair, and when someone else gets preferential treatment, we complain. Do we get that idea from the Bible? Here's how the beatitudes would go if I got to write them:
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Hosed are the arrogant, for they shall get squat.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. But the rich are out of luck, because they get a different kingdom, if thou knowest what I mean.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. But the corrupt...well, they shall see the backsides of the pure in heart.
Fortunately for the entirety of mankind, including myself, Jesus had no desire to treat people fairly. The Sermon on the Mount begins with blessings, blessings, blessings. He never gets to the cursings. Why?
At the end of the beatitudes, Jesus says something that makes little sense to modern western Christians: “You are the salt of the earth.” Most of us twenty-first century Americans would read that and think of French fries. The metaphor seems to have no connection to the blessings which immediately preceded it. Although Jesus seemed to speak extemporaneously that day, I think we can presume that he chose his words with extraordinary discernment, and that his listeners understood the connection.
In our culture, we think of salt as a seasoning, a preservative, and a way to keep from falling down on winter sidewalks. But Middle Eastern cultures have another tradition of salt: the covenant. To ancient people who recognized its preservative capacity, salt became a symbolic representation of life itself. This physical substance, they saw, contained the very essence of life, as much as the blood coursing through our bodies. Contracts may be written and breached; we marry and we divorce; promises are made and promises are broken. But in Semitic culture, a salt covenant may not be broken. To break a salt covenant is to scorn life itself.
If I share a meal with you at my Middle Eastern table, we would say that we have “shared salt.” This forms an unbreakable covenant between us, obligating me to protect you while you remain within the boundaries of my territory. I would sacrifice my own life before allowing you to come to harm.
Jesus names his listeners “the salt of the earth.” I don't believe they thought of French fries. I believe they heard him say that they were the guarantee of God's promise. I believe they remembered Leviticus 2, in which the Israelites were commanded to add salt to their grain offerings as a reminder of God's salt covenant. Jesus knew that he would eventually have to sacrifice his own life in protection of those under the covenant.
Jesus had no wish to indulge our sense of fairness by condemning the arrogant, the wealthy, the corrupt, because God's unbreakable salt covenant is with everyone. Though God weeps as we mistreat one another, God’s love for us is undiminished by our brokenness.
The salvation of Jesus is not reserved only for the meek, the pure, the peacemakers; it is for all of God's creation. Through the salvation covenant, God blesses the prideful with humility; God blesses the merciless with compassion; God blesses the wrathful with peace at heart.
Just as salt arrests decay, turns milk into cheese, and enhances the flavor of bread, so God halts the destruction of sin, transforms our lives, and brings out our best qualities.
You are not simply the beneficiary of Jesus' blessing; you are the salt. Every beat of your heart demonstrates that God is faithful, and every living person proves God's grace. You are precious to God, so precious that God would volunteer to shed infinite existence to become a mortal, physical man, who eats and sweats and bleeds. God did not do this to win some cosmic bet; God did not do this to square things up and make the universe fair; God did this because you are precious and holy.