Insipid, tasteless, bad taste, all words we use to describe a distasteful culinary experience, and the behavior or style of people who tend to disgust us. What is the sense behind these unsavory metaphors?
In today’s Gospel reading (Matt 5:13-16), Jesus uses a salty analogy to remind his followers how they ought to behave:
“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.”
The question that enters most readers’ minds upon hearing these words is, “Can salt really lose its flavor?”
If the salt we are speaking of is NaCl, i.e., typical table salt, the answer is No, because NaCl is salty by nature, and so, it cannot lose its saltiness per se. However…
There are, in fact, 3 ways that salt can lose its flavor.
- Jesus’ Hebrew listeners could relate to the first. Dead Sea salt could leave a bad taste in your mouth under the right (or wrong) conditions. Because of the amount of impurities — boron, magnesium, and bromides (yuck!) — in the water, if the sodium chloride in the compound were to dissolve, its saltiness would give way to other yucky flavors you wouldn’t want to sprinkle all over your food. Hence, Jesus’ audience at the Sermon on the Mount lived not far from the Dead Sea, so they got the point of this parable.
- The second way is similar to the first. NaCl can only lose its flavor if the chemical compound dissolves in water and recrystalizes with other elements, which would render it something other than NaCl, and hence no longer salt, strictly speaking.
- Finally, there is the subjective element in taste. If one’s tastebuds were not working properly — say, if you got sick in such a way that you could not taste things properly — salt could be perfectly salty, but the taster could not taste it or would taste the wrong thing.
Now, how does this apply to the Christian?
Part of the answer consists in understanding the value of salt in the ancient world.
Did you know that the word salary comes from salt? Roman soldiers, for example, received a ration of salt as part of their regular wages, and this is where the word salary comes from. If Roman legionaries didn’t want their commanders thinking they weren’t worth their salt, they had to work extra hard for it.
People in the ancient world needed salt in order to survive, because salt not only seasons food, it cures meats and keeps them from spoiling. Salt purifies, cleanses, and heals — that is, as long as it remains salt.
As for the Christian, if we are worthy of the name, we must not just act but be Christlike at all times. When the world loses its taste for Christ, it could be for various reasons. It could be because the world just has a sweet tooth, or because for some reason, it prefers the bitter to the salt of the Gospel. It could also be because its tastebuds are impure or need of healing.These are things we cannot control, but as long as we remain true to the Gospel — being salt, true salt of the earth — we are what we should be, we are true to Christ’s teaching.
Another reason why some Christians could leave a bad taste in other people’s mouths is because they themselves are not pure — hence, not really Christians.
That’s something to think about for today. As Mother Teresa once put it, if you call yourself Christ’s follower, you must always be Chirstlike, because you may be the only Gospel some people will ever read.