Wednesday, 20 April 2016
Passing the Salt
You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? ~ Matthew 5:13
There is a riot of colour, right outside my kitchen window. The pineapple sage is in full bloom, and to say that it has bright red flowers would be an understatement. It is the most vivid scarlet, irresistible to humming birds, butterflies and bumble bees. Red just does something to the senses. It is extravagant, reminiscent of celebration and warmth. At a time when nature seems to slow down and prepares for winter, it is an exclamation mark in the Autumn song. Like salt and spice - making a feast of a bland meal.
Last week, after listening to a teaching which touched on speaking the Truth in love, I started thinking about "salt". Sodium Chloride (NaCl). How it alters, purifies, preserves. I was taken back to an incident which happened when I was about nine. My brother took a bad tumble off his bicycle, free-wheeling at a crazy speed around the traffic circle close to our home. He limped into the house, with bloodied arms and shins and a grim look on his face. My mother took one look at him, took a deep breath, and filled the kitchen basin with hot water. She took a bag of salt out of the cupboard and emptied an alarming amount into the basin. My ashen-faced brother was gently but firmly led to the basin and the raw abrasions were pushed into the salt solution. He roared with the pain, but the wounds were cleaned, and healed without infection. She "inflicted" pain with love. And the result was healing.
The role of salt in the Bible is relevant to understanding Hebrew society during the Old Testament and New Testament periods. Salt was a necessity of life - a mineral that was used as a seasoning, a preservative, a disinfectant, a component of ceremonial offerings, and as a unit of exchange. The Bible contains numerous references to salt. In various contexts, it is used metaphorically to signify permanence, loyalty,durability, fidelity, usefulness, value, and purification.
In Genesis 19:26, we read of the fate of Lot's wife, who was turned to a pillar of salt. Her heart still in Sodom, she failed to obey God's command when given the opportunity (God's grace) to escape the depravity of the city (sin of the world). She looked back (reluctance to leave old self behind). The salt wind from the sulphur rain (God's wrath) which destroyed the city, enveloped her and the pillar remained as a warning that deliberate sin and disobedience can lead to death (consequence).
Leviticus 2:13 and Ezekiel 43:24 illustrate the requirement of salt as part of ancient Hebrew religious sacrifices. Leviticus 2:13 reads: "And every offering of your grain offering you shall season with salt; you shall not allow the salt of the covenant of your God to be lacking from your grain offering. With all your offerings you shall offer salt."
Salt was widely and variably used as a symbol and sacred sign in ancient Israel. Numbers 18:19 and 2 Chronicles 13:5 illustrate salt as a covenant of friendship. In cultures throughout the region, the eating of salt is a sign of friendship. Salt land is a metaphorical name for a desolate no man's land, as found in Psalm 107:34, Job 39:6, and Jeremiah 17:6. The land of defeated cities was salted to consecrate them and curse their re-population, as illustrated in Judges 9:45.
But in certain Eastern cultures, the salt covenant is actually much more than a covenant of friendship. It is an irrevocable pledge and promise of fidelity. Those who have taken salt together would rather die before they would break their covenant. The penalty for violating such a covenant would be death.
Newborn babies were rubbed with salt. A reference to this practice is in Ezekiel 16:4: "As for your nativity, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed in water to cleanse you; you were not rubbed with salt nor wrapped in swaddling cloths." The significance of rubbing a newborn with salt was to indicate that the child would be raised to have integrity, to always be truthful.
The Sermon on the Mount makes reference to salt. In Matthew 5:13, Jesus refers to His disciples as "the salt of the earth." The reference to "salt that has lost it's taste" is salt that is contaminated with other minerals, causing a weakness in flavor or a bland unpleasant taste. For me this was very important to note, for it is a symbolic reference to what happens to believers when we deviate from Scripture and the gospel, especially due to the adulteration of its teachings and lack of discernment.
In a world filled with sin and deceit, it is possible for one to become contaminated and thus "useless" at being an effective disciple. It serves as a warning for disciples (us) to be on our guard; to be in the world, but not of the world.
Mark 9:49 speaks about the salting of the condemned, which is a rhetorical device (a way of speech) showing the severity of the punishment. Mark 9:50 reads in part: "Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another." The salt in this verse refers to the goodwill that "seasons" positive relationships between people. This is also a play on the covenant of salt, indicating friendship and compassion. Colossians 4:6 uses the metaphor of salt seasoning speech to indicate speaking with discernment and wisdom.
It does not mean that Christians have to "spice up life" for people. The world is decaying like rotten fish or meat, but true Christians can be a kind of "moral antibiotic". We can bring a moral clarity (think of William Wilberforce and the abolition of slavery in Great Britain). Christians can have a restraining influence on society (ie. immoral trends of sexual freedom and abortion, to name a few). With Jesus we can have a sanctifying influence (1. 1 Cor. 7:14, “For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.”).
Christians who actually live the beatitudes (Sermon on the Mount) are salt and light to the world. They will have an influence on the world, instead of letting the world influence them. Not influence in status or importance, but in altering through humble submission to Christ, their own lives, which will flow over into the lives of others.
A mouth full - but what we can conclude is this: Now, more than ever before, being the "salt of the world" does not just mean to add a tasty pinch to a bland society. The world is rotting. God's cup of wrath is filling up. The rot is spreading at an alarming rate. Inside and outside of churches all around us. No longer can the stench be covered up by sweet messages of love and tolerance and accepting everything under the cloak of unity and the misuse of: "we should not judge".
Being salt, representing Jesus Christ to the world in purity and with scriptural Truth, rather than gentle philosophy, does not equate to being judgemental. When someone feels passionate about woman's rights or abortion or child abuse etc., and stands up for it, they are not seen as judgemental. They are seen to be courageous.
Being "salty" means loving and living courageously. Loving like Jesus did, not to be loved but to save. It means to be willing to feel the bite in an open wound to remain untainted. To submit to the unconditional and just way in which God loves, even if it hurts. To use the "salt" of His Word to reach people's hearts, not their emotions. It means being discerning by staying in step with the Holy Spirit. It means so much more than words can say. But Jesus can.
Listen, He is drawing near. He longs for you, His beloved, and for His beloved to remain pure for Him. Regardless.