Have you ever heard or spoken the saying that someone is “worth their salt” or “not worth their salt”? That is a strange saying. And where did it come from? In Matthew 5:15 Jesus spoke to a listening crowd of people with these words, “You are the salt of the earth”. This also seems like a strange thing to say, because nowadays salt is so plentiful and cheap. Visual Capitalist lists salt as the world’s 7th place non-fuel metal or mineral produced in the world. In 2019 the annual salt production was 293 million metric tons. That’s a lot of salt, though most of it was for non-human consumption. The majority of salt production are for things like road deicing or water softening. Manufacturers also use large quantities of salt in making plastics, detergents, disinfectants and other important products.
Back in Bible times there was no such thing as mining equipment. Extraction and producing salt was back breaking work. Which made salt extremely scarce and valuable. So much so that in Bible times sometimes salt was used as currency. The Roman soldiers in Jesus’s time were sometimes even paid with salt. In fact our word “salary” comes from the Latin word “salarium” or salt money which referred to the payments to the soldiers with salt. So when we use the phrase that someone is worth their salt or someone is not worth their salt it is referring that someone is or is not worth the salary or wages they are earning.
When Jesus says that “You are the salt of the earth”, that is a huge compliment. It means that you are extremely valuable. Salt is white, and in the Bible white symbolizes purity. When extracted from sea water, salt is so white it dazzles in the sun. Salt is also one of the most basic forms of an antiseptic to prevent infection. When you cut yourself, you know how much it stings when you put a bit of salt on it. When I have a tooth pulled, the dental assistant always gives instruction that I am to rinse with warm salt water. And as a long distance runner, one of the most important things I need to do is take good care of my feet. If I do get blisters and hot spots, I will soak them the first chance I get in salt water. As a spiritual analogy, repentance is the spiritual salt to clear up the infection of sin. Acts 3:19 reads, “Repent, then and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord”.
Salt helps bland food taste better. I love the verse from Psalm 34:8, “O taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the man that trusts in Him”. Salt is an essential nutrient. It plays a key role in regulating water in your cells, and also aids in nerve communication and muscle function. But can we eat too much salt? In a SF Gate Healthy Eating article titled High Sodium and Fluid Retention, it quotes “Consuming more than your share of sodium causes your body to retain water, creating temporary fluid weight gain”. How this all works is your body tries to maintain a sodium/water concentration outside cell walls that’s approximately the same as sea water. When you consume extra sodium, your body holds on to water to maintain the right ratio. That is why we get thirsty after eating salty foods because it craves water to balance the ratio. Consuming 400 milligrams of sodium, the amount in a single gram of table salt, causes your body to retain an extra 4 cups of water, which equals roughly 2 pounds. A high-sodium diet causes more than just water-weight gain. Your heart works harder so it also elevates blood pressure, increasing your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. The same article High Sodium and Fluid Retention mentions “heart attack is the leading cause of death for both women and men in the United States, while stroke is the third-leading cause of death”. In fact, 400,000 Americans die every year from problems related to high blood pressure.
We now know that too much salt is not good for us. Harvard School of Public Health says we need only about 500 mg of sodium daily for vital body functions. The American Heart Association recommends we do not exceed 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day. Most Americans consume at least 1.5 teaspoons of salt per day, or about 3400 mg of sodium, which is almost seven times more than our bodies need. My dad died at 47 of a heart attack, so I am constantly reading labels. Much of the excess salt we do consume is hidden in manufactured foods. Food manufacturers know salty foods sell. Which equates to more profits. It saddens me that profits to these corporations are more important than people’s health. Jesus said that “You are the salt of the earth”. Can we be too salty in that it causes harm? Colossians 4:6 relates this on the words we choose to speak, “Let your speech always be with grace as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how to respond to each person”. When our words are not spoken with grace they have the potential to cause great harm. Reading the labels spiritually is like going to God’s Word so we can live a healthy life spiritually in a world infected by sin.
As an ultrarunner, the longer the distance, the greater chance my fluid levels, and sodium/electrolyte balances will get out of balance. The article “Why Sodium is Crucial to Athletes Performing at Their Best” says “it is possible to lose 2,300 mg of sodium is just an hour of running. Several hours of running running in extreme conditions the losses will be massive”. Last year in a 96 kilometer race held on one of the hottest days of the year. I was taking supplemental sodium. But not enough. I pulled myself off the course after 8 hours and 60 kilometers. My body was just not running on all cylinders. I was experiencing a condition called Hyponatremia. Which is defined as a blood sodium concentration below the normal range. Jesus said “You are the salt of the earth”. Which is a huge compliment. For those in ministry and others working in helping occupations such as nurses it is important we don’t become too depleted. Constantly giving out can certainly take its toll. When you look at the life of Jesus, not only did Jesus retreat to be alone with God. He taught his disciples to do the same. “But Jesus often retreated to lonely places and prayed” Luke 5:16.
Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth”. So if are the salt of the earth, we must ask ourself some questions. Are we functioning as salt in our society? As salt of the earth are we that “antiseptic” that helps sin from running rampart in our own lives and in the world around us? Is the effect of our lives causing other people to thirst for Jesus Christ? Are our lives tasteful? Only Jesus was perfect, but do we strive to live lives of purity and holiness? If we do mess up, we have a great promise from God’s Word, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” 1 John 1:9