Sunday, February 5, 2017

"The Purpose of Salt" (Matthew 5:13-20)

Salt has taken a bum rap for quite a while now.  It has been demonized.  It has been called the single most harmful substance in the food supply.  This understanding of salt is so rooted in the minds of many that even my own children have picked up this mantra of salt being bad for you.  Not even a week ago, as we began eating our dinner, my son--Eli, shook his head as I salted my food.  When I asked what the problem was, I was told that all of my children were in awe of the amount of salt I use when eating.  My wife, Dana, said they were concerned about my health.

Well . . . I never . . .

I like salt.  It is a natural reflex for me when I sit down for a meal to reach for the salt.  Yes, I know, I should take a bite of the food before salting, but I already know . . . there is not enough salt on the food.  I’d apologize for this faux de pas except that it is a part of who I am as a person . . . I like salt.  At the same time, I understand the concern of my children.  I keep a close watch of the salt I digest.  I watch the results of my  semi-annual blood checks . . . and, at this point in my life . . . I am safely below the acceptable level of sodium--or, salt--in my diet.  Despite my reassurance to my children that I am fine, they continue to shake their heads each time I reach for the salt shaker.  

Salt has taken a bum rap.  Salt is not that bad . . . in fact it is necessary to our health . . . but, it must be taken in moderation.  

In biblical times, salt was overwhelming viewed as a positive resource.  Salt added flavor to food . . . it enhances flavor; and, at the same time it preserves certain foods like meat of fish from spoiling.  In biblical times, before refrigeration, this is how people preserved things.  Being a lover of salt, I can attest that there is no better way to preserve ham than in salt . . . nothing beats a good country ham.  At the same time, salt also helped to purify or cleanse meat through the removal of blood--a forbidden substance according to the Torah.  

The use of and purpose of salt, in biblical times, was well understood.  Salt was seen as important . . . as vital . . . to life.

After laying the Beatitudes upon the people, Jesus tells those who are gathered that they are the “salt of the earth.”  Jesus calls the people this in light of their relationship with God . . . in their willingness to step into that intimate relationship with God . . . in their commitment to fulfill God’s call to restore the Kingdom of God.  Jesus calls them this in the hope that they will embrace the essence of salt . . . that they will bring flavor to the world in which they live . . . that they will preserve the foundation of their faith . . . and, that through it all, they will purify the world to be closer to the Kingdom of God.  In other words, Jesus sees them as a necessary role in fulfilling God’s desires . . . through Jesus . . . through each of them.  In this, Jesus sees them living their lives in faith as a positive influence.

Jesus see the people as being salt in the world in which they live.  In the way that the people live in honoring their covenant with God . . . to love God completely, to love one another, and to bring God’s kingdom into reality . . . Jesus sees the people as the essence of what is needed in their time and place.  If the people live up to their saltiness . . . to their covenant with God, they will fulfilled the will of God.  God invest God’s self permanently in the world, not through salt alone, but through the breath and life of each one of  God’s children--each created in the image of God.  Because of this, the people become the spice of life . . . the essence of God’s will.

It is the commitment to God’s will that is important when it comes to one’s saltiness as a follower of Jesus.  It is one’s willingness to stand for God’s will in the face of society’s or the world’s will.  It is doing that which brings God’s will into reality when it clashes with the world’s reality.  It is standing up for what God wants.  But what happens when that commitment wanes . . . is forgotten . . . or is ignored?  Well, then, Jesus tells us that the salt has lost its flavor . . . lost its saltiness.

This passage of scripture has bothered me for a long time.  It has bothered me because salt does not lose its saltiness . . . salt is salt no matter how antiquated it might be. Yet, here is Jesus talking about salt losing its saltiness.  Losing its saltiness results in it being “thrown out and trampled by men.”  But, the bottom line is that salt cannot lose its saltiness!  Is Jesus presenting alternative facts?  Not really.  What Jesus is implying is that once a person has lost his or her commitment to his or her faith in God . . . well, that person has lost effectiveness . . . purpose . . . and saltiness.  They are no longer good to the cause of God’s will.

If people who proclaim faith in God through Jesus’ example and life cannot live and fulfill that proclamation, then they are of no use to the will of God.  In such a state they should be thrown out . . . removed.  In such a state they are not fulfilling God’s will . . . they are useless.

Okay, Jesus understood that not everyone understood his metaphors and allusions, thus he sometimes gave a second picture in hopes that his followers would understand.  Thus it is that we have the statement about the “light”.  Not only does he call the people the “salt of the earth”, he also tells them that they are the “light of the world.”  This point that he is attempting to make is so important that he is willing to give more than one example in hopes that the people would understand.

Light shines out to reveal.  Light allows people to see.  As such, light is a perfect metaphor for what Jesus thinks about commitment of the faithful to God’s will.  It is the faithful’s task to reveal and allow people to see God’s desire and will for all of creation . . . for all of humanity.  But, like salt, light is of no use if it is hidden or put out.  The light must shine in order for it to be useful and successful.  

The point that Jesus is attempting to convey is that faith, if it is not used, is of no use to God or to the one proclaiming it.  Faith must be liberally shaken into the fabric of life . . . into the daily mechanism of life . . . into the fray of life with all that it has to offer.  Faith must shine upon the world and reveal to it the will of God.  If it cannot be, then it is of no use to God.  If it is of no use to God, then it must be removed . . . removed for the other faithful to step in.  Jesus warns against faith losing its purpose, desire, and commitment . . . losing its saltiness . . . losing its light.

Those were the words of Jesus for those gathered around him at that point . . . and, they are the words for us gathered here in this sanctuary.  And, with those words, we have been forewarned.  We are to be a people of faith who practice living God’s will, as demonstrated by Jesus, on a daily basis.  We are to hold the world in which we live up against the teaching and word of Jesus . . . the will of God . . . and see whether or not it fits.  If it doesn’t . . . well, are we willing to step out and be that salt, to be that light, that challenges the status quo of the world we are living in.

In these tumultuous times that we live, are we being salty?  Are we being the light?  Are we living up to the commitment we promised when we came into a relationship with God through Jesus?

Whether we like it or not . . . salt has a purpose, especially in Jesus’ understanding of salt.  We are to enhance the flavor and to preserve the will of God.  Anything less . . . well, anything less is useless.  God does not see any of us as useless.  Go forth and be salty . . . go forth and shine the light of your faith in the darkness of the world.  It is our choice . . . may we chose wisely.  Amen.    

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