You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. [Matthew 5:13-16 NRSV]
We have so many common phrases in the English language and I always find it interesting to reflect on where they come from. When you start to look them up, you find that William Shakespeare is responsible for a good many common phrases such as ‘break the ice’ (The Taming of the Shrew), ‘such stuff as dreams are made on’ (The Tempest), ‘lie low’ (Much Ado About Nothing) and ‘I will wear my heart upon my sleeve’ (Othello). The Bible is also a good source for some of our common phrases, and two such phrases follow on from each other in Matthew 5: ‘You are the salt of the earth’ and ‘No one hides their lamp under a bushel [basket]’.
Salt is a mineral that has played a significant role in human history for thousands of years. Salt has been used by humans for preservation, flavouring and medicinal purposes since ancient times. It was first harvested from salt pans and dried in the sun. Civilisations such as the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans recognised the value of salt and used it extensively. It was often used as a form of currency and as a form of payment, for example Roman soldiers were paid in measures of salt, hence the word ‘salary’ is derived from the Latin for salt.
The phrase ’salt of the earth’ refers to people who are good, honest, and down-toearth. Jesus uses the saying during his Sermon on the Mount and calls his listeners to be reliable, trustworthy and of high moral character. So, to be called ‘the salt of the earth’ is high praise indeed. Pure salt cannot lose
effectiveness, but the salt that is common in the Dead Sea area is contaminated with gypsum and other minerals and may have a flat taste or be ineffective as a preservative. Such mineral salts were useful for little more than keeping footpaths free of vegetation.
An old bushel is equal to 8 dry gallons, and was used mostly for agricultural products, such as wheat. So a bushel basket is quite large, being able to hold 8 gallons of wheat and hence able also to hide a significant light source. To hide your light under a bushel can mean to say little about your skills and good features, instead of being confident and telling other people about them – the very definition of being shy about one’s abilities and worth.
Jesus is recorded as having said these two common phrases one after the other in order to emphasise a point which is summed up nicely in verse 16: ‘In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.’
Baginton Road URC continues to be a significant Christian presence here in our little corner of Coventry, something I think we can all be proud of. I believe we are the salt of the earth to the many souls who visit our buildings every week. Thank you to everyone in the church for all your help and support.
Best wishes and God’s blessing to you all.
Revd Peter Kimberley