You Are the Salt of the Earth

Simon Bening, Last Supper (c. 1525-30)

Spiritual Sunday

Today’s Gospel reading has Jesus telling his disciples that they are “the salt of the earth,” a metaphor that brings to mind a Lucille Clifton marriage poem. Clifton knew her Bible well so, although the poem does not have an explicitly religious message, it could well be drawing on the passage from Matthew 5:13.

Think of it as a reflection on the spiritual dimensions of marriage. I share it in anticipation of Valentine’s Day.

A dip into the internet informs me that salt was of immense value in the Middle East. Roman soldiers were sometimes paid in salt (thus Clifton’s comparison to “a peculiar money”), and Homer and Plato considered salt divine. One commentary offers several interpretations for what Jesus has in mind:

Theologians have different theories about the meaning of “salt” in Matthew 5:13. Some think that its whiteness represents the purity of the justified believer. Others say that salt’s flavoring properties imply that Christians are to add divine flavor to the world. Still others believe that Christians are to sting the world with rebuke and judgment the way salt stings an open wound. Another group asserts that, as salt, Christians are to create a thirst for Christ. Salt, however, has another vital purpose which is probably what the Lord had in mind-it stops decay. When Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth”, He meant that all of His disciples were to serve as preservatives, stopping the moral decay in our sin infected world.

Clifton finds similar significance of salt to a marriage

he is salt
to her,
a strange sweet
a peculiar money
precious and valuable
only to her tribe,
and she is salt
to him,
something that rubs raw
that leaves a tearful taste
but what he will
strain the ocean for and
what he needs

Yes, there are days when marriage feels like salt rubbed in a wound, days when there are tears. Rounding out Jesus’s Biblical passage, there are times in a marriage when the salt loses its flavor. In those instances, the marriage can fall apart.

Speaking as the husband in my own marriage, however, I would strain the ocean for my union with Julia. It is what I need.

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