September 8, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
How can you make bad salt taste salty again? That’s the question Jesus poses to the great crowds that accompanied Him. The question is an interesting one. Perhaps some of you in the pews who understand chemistry well could come up with an answer to it. But Jesus’ question isn’t really an inquiry about physical science and the manipulation of elements. It’s more of a rhetorical question that is meant to help sum up His discussion about being one of His disciples.
“Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?” Jesus’ question is about the nature and identity of salt. There is something of salt’s essence that gives it flavor, that gives it the ability to season and to preserve. That’s what makes salt valuable. That’s what makes salt good. That’s what turned ancient seaside cities into centers of wealth and led the Roman Republic to build highways such as the Via Salaria that ran from Rome to the Adriatic Sea. But if that essence that gave salt its taste were lost, there would be no value to it: “It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away.”
So what is Jesus getting at with this talk about salt? He’s putting forward a bit of a parable. He wants His audience to think about the essence of salt but then compare that to the essence of being a disciple. Jesus is giving people an identity when He calls them to follow Him. He is putting something in them that transforms them. It makes them different. Now they are identified as Jesus’ disciples, the people who belong to Him, the group that has Him as Master. They have received that essence by hearing Jesus’ words and believing what they say concerning His identity and work. They have also heard His teachings that establish a way of life for them. That becomes their “flavor” or “taste”.
This concept is very similar to what had happened for the ancient Hebrew people. You heard from the Book of Deuteronomy this morning. You heard how Moses summarized his restating of the Lord’s Covenant to the people whom the Lord had taken for Himself. They were to be bound to Him and the way of life that He established. That is why Moses says: “If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in His ways, and by keeping His commandments and His statutes and His rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.” The people whom Moses addresses found their life in the Lord and His Covenant—“He is your life and length of days”. That’s what defined them as the Lord’s people.
But what would happen if the people lost that essence? What would happen if they lost their taste? If the Lord’s people turned away from His Covenant, they would lose the very thing that gave them value: “But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish.” They would lose their essence as the Lord’s people. It would make them of no use, of no benefit. They would be discarded like the salt that lost its taste.
This is the same message that Jesus gives to His audience. The people had been called by Jesus to receive the kingdom of God that He was bringing. They were to love Him above all things: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” They were to be devoted to His ways, even in the midst of opposition: “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” They were to be dependent upon Him for true life and all that is truly good: “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be My disciple.” But if that were lost, then their essence of being a disciple is lost: they had become salt that lost its taste.
Jesus makes the same statements about you. You are also called to be His disciples. That is an identity that He has given to you. Jesus invites you to receive the benefits that He has earned for you. Through His death, He has atoned for your sin and guilt. Through His resurrection, He has made everlasting life your destiny. Jesus makes a covenant with you that declares these benefits to be yours. That is what He did for you in baptism, when you were made one of His disciples, given the holy name of God to bear, and began to be taught His way of life. Jesus discloses to you the two different fates that exist, just as Moses spoke to the Lord’s Covenant People: “I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.” That “life and good” is found in what Jesus has done for you—“He is your life and length of days”—and in what He has commanded you to keep. This is the “taste” and “flavor” that has been placed in you, the essence of being the Lord’s people.
But what value or what use exists when this is lost? Your being a disciple of Jesus is an identity given to you. By definition, you believe in Jesus and you follow Him. Without that, you are not a disciple. Without that, your value and identity as a disciple are gone. Without that, the benefits that Jesus has won for you are lost. Everything dissipates like the salt losing its flavor. And remember what Jesus said about that salt that has lost its taste: “It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away.”
These statements of Jesus exhort you not to lose your “taste” as His disciples. He warns you not to put other objects above devotion to Him. He pushes you forward to follow His way. He directs your hearts to be set on Him. But this is not just negative, there is also a positive display of what Jesus provides, just as Moses set the benefits of abiding by the Lord’s Covenant before the believers of old. You can place devotion to family below devotion to Jesus—even possibly hating them—because Jesus has brought you into God’s household with brothers and sisters. You can even hate your life because Jesus has given you a life that never ends. You can bear the cross because Jesus’ resurrection awaits you. You can renounce what you own because Jesus has shown you that your life does not consist in the abundance of your possessions and has given you a lasting treasure.
The taste and flavor of being a disciple remains in you as you abide in the covenant that Jesus has made with you, keeping everything that He commanded. That is why it is so vitally important to know what Jesus has done and accomplished for you, as well as what He has said and taught about discipleship. In a few moments, we will formally place the individuals involved in our parish education work into their offices. There will be prayers and a blessing for them, asking that they be faithful in carrying out the responsibilities entrusted to them.
But why are they given these responsibilities? Why do we want those duties fulfilled? Because they are handing down to young disciples of Jesus the message of what He has done and the way of life that His disciples follow. The essence of being a disciple is being placed in the hearts, minds, and souls of the young people of our congregation and those who attend our preschool. These children will have “life and good” set before them; they will learn that Jesus is their “life and length of days”.
And what is the point of all this? That they, along with their teachers and all of you, will follow Jesus in the way of life that He has established. That they would find delight in the Law of the Lord, thinking about it day and night, producing the fruits of faith and love. That they would dwell in the Promised Land that the Lord swore to give His people. That they would receive the fullness of the resurrection that Jesus possesses and desires to share with all His followers. This is the outcome of their faith, the outcome of being Jesus’ disciple. And it will be theirs and yours, as the identity that Jesus gives is kept and maintained by constantly loving the Lord, walking in His ways, and keeping His commands.
Jesus’ statement is correct: “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away.” But salt that has held its taste and flavor has value. It is kept, not discarded. The value that Jesus places on you is giving His life in ransom for you and rising to life again, so that you may eternally share in the benefits of His work. That is the fate Jesus desires for His people, for you who have been called to be His disciples. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.