If the salt loses its savor, what good is it except to be thrown out on the trash heap?Jesus – Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 5, verse 13a
(Photo credit – aero)
How does salt lose its potency? If you leave it alone in its natural state, it is almost impossible for that to happen. The only way to disarm salt is to dilute it, wash it away, or combine it with another substance that neutralizes it by another chemical reaction that breaks its bond.
While the ancients may not have known the specific chemistry involved in making and destroying salt, they knew the practical method of rendering it ineffective. Dump it into water, or wash it away with water. Pollute it and dilute it by mixing with something else. Some of their more knowledgeable scientists even understood about using another substance to wipe it out.
Salt was a valuable commodity. It had to be mined. We still have to mine it. Effective, large-scale evaporation techniques had not been developed to render it from sea-water in enough quantity to make that a practical alternative.
Salt-mining was a deadly and dirty business performed by criminals and recalcitrant slaves condemned to a slow death. The Roman state kept a tight control on who could operate salt-mines. The average life-span of a slave or criminal in the salt-mines was three years. Salt was an imperial monopoly, although its mining was contracted to entrepreneurs willing to foot the production bill and pay hefty annual fees to the Imperial treasury. Profits margins were high, as were the risks of losing shipments by shipwreck, or to pirates, raiders, and bandits.
Salt was used in preserving food, cooking, cleaning, and medicine. The ancients understood quite well that it was essential for good health. As did Jesus, which is why he referred to it in his teaching. To run out of salt was a serious issue.
Therefore, when Jesus told his disciples and listeners, “You are the salt of the earth,” they understood implicitly what he meant. It wasn’t just that they added some zest to life or helped a bit in making the world a better, more interesting, and healthier (tastier) place. It included those nuances, but it also meant that they were essential to the world’s preservation, cleansing, and healing. It was a commission to become world-changers, difference-makers, genuine Outliers who challenge the status quo and bring metanoia (see previous post) and shalom (true peace).
Two thousand years in, we’ve lost most of the urgency and immediacy of what Jesus was saying. Here in the West, the old heartland of Christendom, we’ve also lost our way, living for generations now as we do in so much abundance and wealth and inherited power. To us, salt is a condiment in our diet. It’s incorporated in our prepared foods and restaurant servings to the point we are incapable of understanding Jesus’ metaphor about salt. With rare exceptions, we don’t use it to clean or even very much in medical applications.
The Ekklesia, the God-family Jesus founded two thousand years ago and told to be “the salt of the earth”, the God-family which once upon a time wielded immense influence and power in the West, and, by imperial extension, the world, has largely lost its preservative power, its cleansing and healing power. These days, it certainly appears to have lost its ability to add “savor” – joy and happiness to life.
We cannot say such things about the Church (non-denominational sense) without applying them to ourselves as individuals and local expressions of God’s family on earth. When people look at us – at me – do they see anything that looks like metanoia, joy, and a healing presence? Do they see and hear the voice of a comforter, an Outlier pointing beyond my personal goals and desires and towards the presence of the Creator among us and within me?
Do my neighbors, near and far, known and strangers, only hear a wrathful message of “You’re all damned!” even while they watch me/us play out the old hunger and thirst for lost political power and social control manifesting as self-righteousness? Do they ever hear about the mercy and grace of God brought by the Prince of Peace and the sacrificial lamb instead of a proclamation of Jesus’ coming wrath and his warrior return as the arm of God’s avenging justice? Far too often this generation sees and hears a militant crusade to take back the lost levers of power and access to the top echelons of decision-making over society, rather than the servant-way of reaching out past the great rift through our culture and society to offer a road to reconciliation and mutual forgiveness,
Jesus did not give the example of the truly humble, suffering servant to His disciples so they (and we) could shrug it off as some sort of time-limited one-off performance so we could all move into triumphalist militant preparation for the Second Coming. To those who wanted to outdo the Romans by overthrowing the Empire and taking over the reins of power as His right- and left-hand wielders of justice and vengeance on all the infidels, He said things like the following (a little paraphrased): “Those who live by the sword, die by the sword. Do good to those who persecute you. Rejoice if you are persecuted and killed for bearing My name. Your reward will be great in My Father’s Kingdom. The servant is not above the Master. It is enough that the servant be like (Greek implies “just like/the same as”) the Master.”
The kind of deeply militant representation of the Gospel we have seen and continue to see in some North American manifestations as “real-man Christianity” is an aberration bordering on a heresy. It is dangerously close to blasphemy in refashioning Jesus as the “ultimate manly Man” inspiring an imperial state which operates with an acute sense of being God’s anointed nation in the earth with its own special “Manifest Destiny”. Into this theologically justified ideology have been grafted all kinds of special doctrines (some of which are used to soft-peddle the continuation of repression of racial minorities and the definite subordination of women) in a kind of blind, or even deliberate, syncretism justified as the true will of Jesus for today. Forget the original sense of the “Great Commission” and the methodology of love and compassion and inclusion passed from the Master to His Messengers [Apostles] in carrying it out.
The analysis presented here may be offensive to some readers of this episode of this series. If so, I would ask them to seriously ask themselves why they are offended. I would suggest that they honestly review the Gospel Jesus preached and the way He treated people as the living, breathing, human (as He still is even as the resurrected One) Messiah, including minorities and women, and instructed His first disciples to treat them and serve them and be light and salt in the world. That is the standard, not the ideological reinterpretation of cherry-picked aspects of things Jesus and the Apostles said, did, and taught to fit an extra-Biblical ideology needing baptism or holy-water sprinkling.
Recovering our salt means recovering our true calling and doing a reset to once more become the heart, soul, and hands and feet of our Master for the world of today, rather than shouting at the darkness and launching imprecations at the things we find ugly and reprehensible.
TO BE CONTINUED