Catholic Meaning of "You Are the Salt of the Earth"

Salt was extremely valuable in the ancient world.
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The phrase “salt of the earth” is common expression usually used to describe someone who is earnest, honest and down-to-earth. The phrase is originally from the Bible, from the gospel of Matthew, and in fact it has a deeper and much more complex meaning.

1 Matthew 5:13

The actual reading from Matthew 5:13 is: "You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” Matthew is quoting Jesus Christ, and is describing a time when Jesus leads his disciples up to a mountaintop and teaches them. Jesus first instructs the disciples in the Beatitudes, which begin: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven." The teachings go on to say that those who are poor or weak are actually rich in the eyes of God, and explain that those who are pure and loving on earth will get their reward in heaven. This leads Jesus to then tell his disciples that they are the salt of the earth.

2 What Jesus Meant by Salt

Salt was a valuable commodity in the ancient world. In Jesus’ time, salt was expensive, and it was a necessary part of food preservation and flavor. The Bible has many references to salt, which was even used as currency. The words “salary” and “sale” get their origin from salt.

3 What It Means to Be Salt

By calling his disciples salt, Jesus is telling them that they are a valuable and necessary part of God’s plan. He is calling on them to add fullness and flavor to Christian life, to preserve the faith they have received and pass it on to others. The disciples are called to be living proof of God's love on earth. This means they are as basic to God’s word as salt is to human life, and if the disciples can’t be salt, then they will not be true disciples living as God desires them.

4 If Salt Loses Its Taste

As with all Scripture, a wide variety of interpretations of Jesus' teachings is possible. One popular interpretation of the phrase is that Christians cannot allow themselves to lose their 'saltiness,' so to speak. It is not enough to simply be "salt;" Christians must take care to remain fresh and energetic in their devotion to God.

Pam Lobley was a regular columnist on the Op Ed page of "The Bergen Record" for three years; in addition, her columns have appeared in many newspapers, such as "The New York Times" "The Philadelphia Inquirer," "The Chicago Tribune" and several others. As a playwright, her work has been produced regionally and in New York City.