Your Faith as Salt of the Earth
by Jeanne Heiberg
We are called to be salt of the earth. We are sent to be Christ's light in the world.
We are called to be salt of the earth. We are sent to be Christ’s light in the world.
Salt, in the way Jesus spoke of it, can season our Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to which the Church calls us always—but especially during the season of Lent. The symbol of salt can help flavor and preserve our commitment to Jesus as his faithful disciples.
Today, salt is so common that we speak of how we can eat less of it. At one time, however, salt was more valuable than gold. Before refrigeration and freezing and canning techniques were developed, salt was one of the few ways to preserve food. It allowed people to travel far carrying their food with them. Some consider it part of the reason for the rise of cities and whole civilizations.
The Wieliczka Salt Mine, Poland
Because it was not easy to come by, salt once had a high economic value; it was often a key mover of economies, nations, and wars. When a Polish king received the gift of a salt mine in the 1500s, Poland became a great and wealthy kingdom.
I visited the famous salt mine of Wieliczka (Vee-letch-ka), near Krakow. It is included on the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s World Cultural Heritage List. The mine’s shafts date back to the 1200s. The group I was with walked to a depth of 400 feet, passing rock salt statues carved by miners. Some figures showed how salt was mined; most figures were religious. The spirituality of the art meshed with the treatment of mine ponies that were given frequent furloughs above ground so that they would not go blind in the dark mines.
In many cultures, salt is a symbol of friendship, and those who treat people and animals with such kindness are called “the salt of the earth.” This idea traces back to Jesus, who taught us how to become such people—and most of the mine’s art tells Jesus’ story.
At its lowest point, the mine tunnel we traveled opened into a huge cathedral-like space with salt chandeliers shining on carvings of saints, Mary, Jesus, the cross, and Pope John Paul II, the beloved Polish Pope.
Salt: Practical and Symbolic
Salt has an ancient history. Through thousands of years, it served practical purposes and provided symbolic meanings.
Around 2,700 B.C., an explanation of different kinds of salt, how to extract it, and how to use it was circulated in China. The word “salary” comes from the word salt, a frequent form of pay for soldiers and others in ancient Rome. Italian roads called Via Salaria still speak of ancient salt routes begun in the Bronze Age.
Let’s explore some practical uses and symbolic references to salt that will help us better understand how, as faithful Christians, we are salt of the earth.
Flavor, preservation, and covenant: The Hebrew Scriptures often refer to salt. Job refers to salt’s flavoring qualities: “Can something insipid be eaten without salt?” (6:6) Sirach says, “Chief of all needs for human life are water and fire, iron and salt…” (39:26).
Symbolically, salt reflects God’s covenant with his chosen people. Mosaic Law called for animal sacrifices to be sprinkled with salt (Leviticus 2:13; Ezekiel 43:24). Salt’s ability to flavor and preserve food reflects Israel’s lasting covenant with God. This covenant is to be preserved and never broken.
Friendship: In many cultures and languages, salt is a sign of friendship. A covenant of salt is one of friendship between people and God and also between people and each other (2 Chronicles 13:5). Jesus tells us to be steadfast and completely committed to the way of discipleship, otherwise we are like salt that loses its taste (Luke 14:34).
When we are the salt of the earth, we are fully committed to a life of faith and our relationships are peaceful. Paul tells us to season our speech with salt (Colossians 4:6) so that it will be gracious.
Purification and healing: Salt has purifying powers. In 2 Kings 2:19-22, Elisha pours salt on brackish water to make it wholesome. In Mark 9:49, Jesus says everyone will be salted by fire. Both salt and fire purify.
More purifying effects of salt lie in its healing power. Breathing salt air or being immersed in salt water is healing. Hippocrates advised fellow doctors to bathe patients in salty seawater; the practice continued in Greece and other countries and has continued to our own time. Ocean and mineral spas were common throughout Europe, and many people still immerse their aching joints and problem skin areas in Epsom salt for healing.
Many people use saline salt solutions to clear sinus and nasal passages with a Neti pot to prevent colds. Some gargle with salt to ease sore throats. Scouring iron skillets with salt rather than water preserves their finish, and heating salt in skillets purifies the air of unpleasant odors.
Political and social justice: Early in the twentieth century, Indian holy man Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi led a march of peaceful demonstrators to the sea, where salt was made, to protest a salt tax. A larger goal was to end British rule and establish a free India, with its own government. Today India knows independence but the political power of salt has declined—in India and around the world. Most of it is now sold at low cost and is refined and iodized. However, many people are returning to unrefined sea salt that retains more health-giving minerals.
Jesus calls us to kindness, mercy, and justice when he calls us salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13).
A “Fresh” Insight
Understanding certain Palestinian practices brings fresh insights to Jesus’ words. In his time, families baked in outdoor ovens made of earth or clay. Because trees were scarce, people used dung for fuel. It was dried, mixed with salt, and placed on a slab of salt on the oven floor. The salt was a catalyst that helped the fuel burn. When the salt slab lost its catalytic function, it was good for nothing but a stepping stone on a muddy path, “thrown out and trampled underfoot” (Matthew 5:13). In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says that when salt looses its taste, it is fit “neither for the soil nor for the manure pile” (Luke 14:35).
Jesus says, “Everyone will be salted with fire” (Mark 9:49-50). Both salt and fire can be used for purifying. We can make connections between the life of a disciple of Jesus and the salt that makes the fire burn for cooking and to give warmth and light.
Jesus calls us “salt of the earth,” full of flavor and on fire with God’s love. Then he calls us the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:13-14). Salt and light: two wonderful images of what Jesus calls us to become.
Note: Use discretion in telling students about the fuel used in the earth ovens lest they go “yuck!” With huge flocks and herds, dung was bountiful. In that hot climate, it dried quickly and so was easy to handle and store.
Say to the Children
Salt seasons food and makes it taste good. It preserves food and makes it last longer. When someone is called “the salt of the earth,” it’s a compliment and Jesus said it about us, his disciples. Using salt to preserve food was important before refrigerators and techniques for freezing and canning food were invented.
The word “salary” comes from the word that means salt. Salt once was more precious than gold. Kings would use salt as pay to their soldiers, servants, and friends. Those who ate salt at a king’s table became loyal; they were his friends.
To people in Jesus’ time, making food last and keeping it from spoiling was a reminder of God’s lasting covenant with them. God keeps promises. If we have the salt of faith in us and if we keep the promises of our Baptism, our love of God and others will last our whole lives. Our relationships with others will be respectful and friendly. In many cultures, salt is a sign of friendship. Jesus tells us to keep the commitments of our faith the way salt keeps food from spoiling.
Salt is healing and purifying. Certain salts heal pain and skin problems. If we have the salt of faith in us, we turn to God for his healing grace.
In biblical times, salt not only went into food to flavor it or to preserve it. Salt also went into outdoor ovens made of clay. A slab of salt rested on the floor of each earth oven to make the fire burn well. Salt also went into the fuel that fired up the ovens. Salt helped the fire burn brighter, giving light and warmth. (If appropriate, share more detail from the boxed material titled “A ‘Fresh’ Insight.”)
Several times Jesus linked salt, fire, and light together. Once, right after he told his followers they were the salt of the earth, he told them they were the light of the world.
As faithful followers of Jesus, you pray, fast, and give alms—especially during Lent. Praying, fasting, and giving alms are like salt to your faith. Your faith grows strong and you become “salt of the earth” and one of Jesus’ bright lights in the world.
In Preparation for the Activity
To help your students remember that they are “salt of the earth,” decorate bottles or jars that can hold health-giving sea salts, healing bath salts, or table salt. Collect bottles/jars with nice shapes and easy-to-remove labels (or you can cover labels with ones you make). Use bottles with wider mouths for bath salts; use smaller bottles for table salts. Don’t forget what each salt is for. Epsom salt or Dead Sea salt are for bathing; they are never used to season food. Sea salt is mainly for food but can be mixed with bath salts. You may want to add a caution about the ingredients to the labels on jars of salt.
ACTIVITY: Salt Craft
* empty bottles or jars (one for each student)
* salt—Epsom salt, sea salt, regular table salt (enough for each student’s bottle/jar)
* pieces of cloth (enough to make a top covering for unsightly bottle/jars)
* yarn, heavy cord, garland, ribbon, or long pipe cleaners (enough to secure each piece of cloth to the top of each bottle/jar; rubber bands can also be used for this purpose)
* self-adhesive labels or copy paper to make labels
* markers, colored pencils, crayons
Optional: craft beads; artificial flowers; ingredients for giving bathing salts a fragrance (see #4 in PROCEDURE)
1. Clean and thoroughly dry bottle/jar and remove label if possible.
2. Turn bottle/jar upside down on a piece of cloth and trace a circle about ¾” to 1” beyond the lip. Cut out circle. This will serve as the top covering.
3. Fill jars with the salt you have chosen. Option: If you want to make fragrant bathing salt, mix 2 cups Epsom salt, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and several drops of an essential oil such as lavender, rose, eucalyptus, or thyme.
4. Decorate the bottle/jar with stickers and/or with labels. Write words on an adhesive label (or a small piece of copy paper to serve as a label). Encourage students to use words from Scripture such as “You are the salt of the earth.” Optional: Prepare computer generated labels.
5. Place top covering on bottle/jar and fold down around the lip. Secure covering with rubber bands and/or by tying yarn, heavy cord, garland, ribbon, or pipe cleaners around the lip. (If you are using craft beads or artificial flowers, affix these to yarn, heavy cord, garland, ribbon, or pipe cleaners before tying.)
Salt and Light Prayer
On your prayer table, place the decorated bottles/jars of salt and a Bible with the readings marked (see below).
Opening Prayer: Lord, you call your friends “salt of the earth.” We are your friends. Our lives are seasoned with your presence. We share our love of you with others. We help heal the world with friendship, and we light the world with your love. We pray that in this season of Lent, we will grow in your friendship and be salt-of-the-earth people, happy in your love.
Readings: 2 Chronicles 13:5 (God’s covenant with his people is to be preserved); Matthew 5:13-16 (salt of the earth, light to the world); Luke 14:34 (salt is good but not if it loses its flavor)
Leader: During Lent, we focus on becoming the salt of the earth by following Jesus. We pray, fast, and give alms. Let us ask God to help us make good choices.
When we feed the hungry and give water to the thirsty, we are the salt of the earth. R:
Help us, Lord, to be salt of the earth and your light to the world.
When we smile and give kindness and cheer to others, we are the light of the world. R.
When we pray in our hearts to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, we are the salt of the earth. R.
When we read Scripture, learn about the lives of saints, and pray at Mass, we are the light of the world. R.
When we pay attention to teachers, do our chores, and study well, we are the salt of the earth. R.
When we help our parents, neighbors, and friends, we are the light of the world. R.
When we see needs around us and pitch in to help, we are the salt of the earth. R.
When we think loving thoughts and see the good in others, we are the light of the world. R.
Closing Prayer: Lord, help us to serve with love, according to our gifts, so that we will be salt of the earth and your light in the world. May we preserve our faith and shine brightly as your children.
Jeanne Heiberg is the author of Advent Arts & Christmas Crafts (Paulist Press) and Advent calendars (Creative Communications). She has taught art, writing, creative catechetics, and meditation, and has directed parish catechetical programs. Jeanne writes, paints, and gives writing workshops in upstate New York. Jeanne welcomes visitors at her blog: jeannesarts4you.blogspot.com.
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