You are fertiliser – not just table salt – for the earth!

Most of us feel helpless when confronting the numerous challenges facing us — whether local, national or global.

Jul 14, 2017

By Anil Netto
Most of us feel helpless when confronting the numerous challenges facing us — whether local, national or global.

At the global level, we have serious stuff: climate change, the arms race, water and food scarcities in various regions, famine, disease, poverty and wealth and income disparities, war and mass migration.

At the national level, we are confronted with the soaring cost of living, aggravated by the GST, the staggering levels of corruption, budget cuts in healthcare and higher education, ethnic chauvinism and religious exclusivism and bigotry. We see our hills and forests disappearing as well.

And at the local level, we see haphazard planning, the loss of green spaces, the lack of affordable housing, the lack of facilities for people with special needs or disabilities, cases of violence and crime.

Sometimes, it all gets too overwhelming. So we tend to leave matters to the politicians to sort out ie the local councillors (who are political appointees, unlike their counterparts in many democracies who are elected), state assembly representatives or members of Parliament. At the international level, we have platforms such as Asean, the United Nations and the International Court of Justice to tackle cross-border problems.

The system, when it works, can be effective in bringing our complaints or dissatisfaction to a higher forum, hopefully to be resolved.

But there is a downside. The individual or community may also feel disempowered, marginalised or disillusioned if their problems are not effectively resolved. For many, their participation in the process is limited: mainly, once in every four or five years when many exercise their right as voters to choose political parties and candidates to represent them.

Elected representatives and institutions, however, cannot possibly solve all problems on their own, comprehensively.

Indeed, we cannot possibly ‘outsource’ all the work of transforming the world around us to a few hundred elected representatives or political appointees.

Every one of us is called to play a role. In Matthew 5:13, Jesus declared: “You are salt for the earth. But if salt loses its taste, what can make it salty again? It is good for nothing, and can only be thrown out to be trampled under people’s feet.”

This is not a casual statement by Jesus. So integral, so vital is this concept in Jesus’ teachings that it follows immediately after — or is even part of — the Beatitudes, the charter that outlines his basic expectations of us in proclaiming the Good News of his kingdom.

Now, we are accustomed to thinking of salt as something that gives taste to food.

But Anthony Bradley, an associate professor of religious studies at King’s College in New York, realised that the saltier salts were actually used as soil fertiliser in the Palestine of Jesus’ time and in some other early agragrian societies (Christianity Today, 2016).

Such fertiliser, may actually disintegrate over time, losing its gypsum (that gives its saltiness), pointed out Bradley, thus making it less effecting as a fertlising agent. This salt also preserves the fertiliser.

With that in mind, Luke 14:34–35 makes perfect sense: “Salt is a good thing. But if salt itself loses its taste, what can make it salty again? It is good for neither soil nor manure heap. People throw it away.”

So now it is clear. The salt that Jesus was referring to was meant to nourish the soil or to be allocated to preserve the fertiliser stockpile.

There is more to it than just a subtle difference between table salt or fertiliser salt.
Table salt is often an optional extra, adding flavour to a meal, making it more palatable. And too much salt may not be good for your blood pressure either! It is often added while cooking or at the end to a meal already prepared.

Now, fertiliser is another thing altogether. It is added right at the beginning, even before anything can be seen to grow or even before planting the seed. We all know what an effective fertiliser can do to a garden or even for a harvest. The garden grows vibrant with striking colours and shoots appear even more lush and luxuriant. The fertiliser can change barren grounds into fertile soil and produce an abundant harvest. It can totally change or enhance the end product.

We can now see Jesus’ call to be the salt for the soil in a new light. We are called to be the fertiliser of the world, to nourish the kingdom of God, to make the world vibrant and fully alive. We are called to go to the ground, especially barren places, by enriching the roots so that people can grow fully human, fully alive. And not just people — the entire creation is to be transformed, teeming with life and love and beauty.

A few hundred elected representatives alone can only do so much. Activists and religious people can complement their work in changing society. But to get to the root, to realise our full transforming potential, requires all of us to roll up our sleeves.

To transform barren deserts into lush greens, we have to first nurture the soil, the very earth beneath our feet; everything we take for granted has to change — for that is the effect of fertiliser on soil in the earth.

So it is abundantly clear: We are called to be the fertiliser of the earth — not just mere table salt — so that the kingdom of God will reap a rich harvest of love, compassion, justice and peace.

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