This is an explanation of the Come, Follow Me lesson for week 08 of 2023 Matthew 5 and Luke 6. The Beatitudes is a description of how Jesus wants his followers to behave. His list also gives all Christians the reasons for their expected behavior.
I will first take a look at salt in the ancient world, its uses by cultures and by God, Himself. Next I’ll look at the actual expectations Jesus laid out for us in his sermon to the people. We’ll combine them into how our behavior as outlined by Christ is typified by the salt that was used by covenant Israel and by people throughout the ancient world. Finally we will see how all these things teach us how to be perfect.
Salt as a preservative
Today we preserve food with preservatives that makes food last for months or even years. Most of the preservatives are not natural, but are manmade. We also use refrigeration and dehydration, like freeze drying food to make it last longer. All of these methods of preserving food came about within the last 100 or so years. Before that time they had fewer options to make their food last. For millennia salt has been the main preserver of food.
People discovered that applying salt to fish or meat caused it to dry out quickly, preserving it for months at a time. And if they were in a dry climate that same food might last years. And in a world where starvation often happened between the planting of a crop and the harvesting of that same crop, preserved food was vital for survival. Common words we use that were originally based on salt are salami, sauce, sausage, jerky, ham, corned beef, etc. All of these foods were either processed with or had salt added to make them last. Most fish were either eaten the day they were caught or they were salted to preserve them until they could be cooked.
Salt does what it does by locking onto water molecules and pulling them out of the meat. This dries the meat, leaving nothing for the bacteria that rots the meat to live on. The bacteria needs the moisture to live. Hence they die and the food remains edible. Salty, but edible.
It is also important to note that modern salt is often manmade, so it is pure, with no other nutrients in it. Old fashioned salt dried from ocean water or mined underground is full of minerals that come with the salt. This is what gives natural salts their various flavors. This is also why some salts taste more or less salty. Some salts are smoked so they soak up the flavor of the wood. These are some of your gourmet salts.
Salt was so important in the ancient world that Roman soldiers were given an allowance of salt. From that allowance came the word “salary.” It was so valuable that even today someone is said to be worth their salt. There is still an Arabic saying, “There is salt between us.” If two men eat salt together, even if they were enemies before, they now have to defend one another. Salt was used to bind people together.
In the Mosaic law God told the people that the grain offerings had to be accompanied with salt. Later the Jewish scholars broadened that practice to including salt in every offering. The everlasting nature of God’s covenant with Israel is referred to as a salt covenant. Many ceremonial meals featured the use of salt to symbolize the binding nature of their contract or covenant one with another. For more interesting customs involving salt, both anciently and today, go take a look at Salt, an entry from JewishEncyclopedia.com. And these are just the customs among the Jews. Many cultures have customs relating to the use of salt in their social life.
The long and the short of this brief look at salt is this – salt represents preservation. Because salt changes how food tastes and how it behaves, salt became vital to social life. Its use was universal, being used and seen in many ways throughout Old and New Testament societies. Even the word salvation is said to have been based on the word salt. The dictionaries don’t give this as part of its history, but many Christian sources compare Christ’s saving us from sin to salt’s saving food for the preservation of the people.
I promise that salt and the Beatitudes will be tied together before the end of this article. The word beatitude means to be fortunate, happy, or blessed. In Christ’s sermon he recites a list of behaviors and attitudes that will cause those who follow him to find happiness or be blessed.
Blessed are the poor in spirit – To be poor in spirit means to be poor or lacking in pride. In other words, to be humble. 3 Nephi 12:3 says “… the poor in spirit who come unto me.” This adds the qualifier that it isn’t enough to just be lacking pride. The blessings await those who are humble AND come unto Christ.
They that mourn – The Lord promises that they who mourn will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek – To be meek is characterized by those who are “gentle, forgiving, or benevolent; the Hebrew in Psalm 37:11 characterizes as the humble those who have suffered.” Perhaps this is why Jesus describes himself first and foremost as meek.
They who hunger and thirst after righteousness – They will be filled. Interesting that Jesus uses an appetite like hunger to describe the yearning to know more and to be better than we are.
The merciful – Shall obtain mercy. This is certainly not something that will happen through the society in which we live. This is something we must seek at the hands of God.
The pure in heart – Shall see God. This doesn’t seem to phase a Latter-day Saint, but to the rest of the Christians in the world, I wonder how they see this blessing playing out.
The peacemakers – They shall be called the children of God. This is a very accurate description of Jesus.
They which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake – Theirs is the kingdom of heaven. When the KJV (King James Version) says “for my sake” what it means is “because of me.” This beatitude or blessing is another one that describes what it means to be meek – those who suffer because of their belief in Christ.
Those who revile you, persecute you, and speak all manner of evil against you because of your belief in Christ – The blessing for those who suffer for Christ’s name comes in the next verse. Jesus reminds us that those who suffer in this manner should “rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven.” He points out that the prophets suffered this way also, and remember that Israel had not had a prophet among them for hundreds of years. The Jews kept killing them.
Jesus listed seven character traits or attributes of his true followers. Out of those seven attributes, mourning for someone’s loss takes no effort at all, meaning that sorrow usually comes naturally to us when we lose someone we love. Feeling sorrow isn’t normally an attribute we need to cultivate. Now if it is mourning for someone else’s loss, we may need to work on that. The last two items I listed above are just situations that arise because you choose to live by the first seven in the list.
Now that Jesus has listed the attributes or characteristics of his true followers, he goes on to let them know that if we want to follow him we will be a very public kind of example. First he tells us that his followers are the salt of the whole earth. That is a broad statement. What does it refer to? Christ may bring us the gospel that will save us, but it is up to us to set the example for the rest of the world of what that kind of life represents.
We are the salt, the leaven, the light, or the influence that shows everyone else what a difference living a Christ-centered life makes. As salt makes our food taste better, so too does living a Christlike life make us happier. Others will see how happy we are, how well we are able to cope with the trials of life, see our kindness and benevolence, and they will be drawn to Christ. This is the purpose we serve by following Christ, beyond achieving our own salvation. He wants us to set the example for others as well. This is what gives us our “savour.”
If we don’t set the example of the Christlike life for others to see then we have lost our purpose of being his disciple, his example setter, our “savour” if you will, and are thence no longer useful in his efforts to bless the lives of all people. We, like salt that no longer serves its intended purpose, may as well be tossed out and trodden under the foot of men. What makes us the salt of the earth is this list of attributes he just enumerated in the beatitudes. These are what set us apart from the rest of mankind. These attributes also make us a light, and example to others.
Jesus doesn’t want us to just quietly be good, but to be like the city that is on the hilltop that is visible for all to see or like the light that is set on a candlestick for all in the house to see. This latter example is very intimate, indicating that many of us may only have influence over a few people, but what an influence it can be! Light brings intelligence and vision. Yes, there is responsibility in being one of his disciples. Our purpose is to show the kind of life a disciple of Christ lives so they can also glorify God and seek that life as well. The rest of the chapter is spent telling his disciples ways in which they can better live these commandments.
I think it is important to acknowledge that the beatitudes are not just nice suggestions as to how good people behave. This is a list of actual commandments required for us to become perfect.
After Jesus gives numerous examples of how to live the life he has described in the beatitudes, he says this (Matthew 5:48).
48 ye therefore , even as your which is in heaven is .
Joseph Smith (JST) says the verse should read “Ye are therefore commanded to be perfect …” But what does the word perfect mean in Greek, the original language of the New Testament? Perfect means to be “complete, finished, fully developed.” It says nothing about not making mistakes or knowing everything. The Beatitudes Christ outlines, and the ways of thinking that follow his list describe someone who is spiritually fully developed, hence perfect in the eyes of God.
Take some time to review the list of attributes Jesus gives. Then review the habits of living he lists for those who want to receive his blessings (Matthew 5:17-44). When we can readily and fully implement his list of attributes we will be considered perfect or fully developed before God. We will still make mistakes, that never completely goes away, but those who live the life Jesus describes in the Beatitudes will be constantly repenting and improving their ability to live the life he has outlined for us. And living that life is what creates our happiness.
I might want to clarify something here. Even using the Greek definition of the word perfect we will never achieve in mortality the ultimate state in each of the qualities Jesus taught us in the Beatitudes. But as we seek to incorporate these attitudes or character traits in our life we become more like Christ, more easily taught, more readily forgiven for our sins, and closer to that perfect or complete state God wants us to achieve.
When I say we can be perfect in this life, I refer to the acquisition of these traits in our character. The complete change from the human that we are to the fully celestialized individual we will someday be is still a ways away. But we are approximating perfection here, in that we are learning to be meek, humble, forgiving, etc., like Christ.
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