July 30, 2011

Hard Sayings II: Salty Salt

"Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other." Mark 9:50

The question is always inevitable in every Bible study. Some wise acre always asks it: "How can salt lose it saltiness?" If salt is salt it always remains salty, right?

Salt was rarely found in its pure refined state as we are used to in today's world. Organic salt was usually loaded with impurities and other minerals. Where it wasn't mixed in properly people would actually mix earth or minerals in with it on purpose. This would give its texture and in the cast of ingesting, its taste. When the salt having been constituted like this was exposed to moisture either directly or in moist air the salt would literally leach out of the compound making a salt "without salt" or a salt without saltiness. Therefore it would be good for nothing because without the salt being in the salt there would be little or no taste and there would be no preservational properties to the salt that it was often used for. It would then be useless or as Luke puts it succinctly:

"It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out." Luke 14:35

Salt as a preserving effect or added zest is the idea we are looking at here also. If salt does not have these effects or properties, what good is it? Its flat, lifeless (a characteristic that can also be said of people) and doesn't do what its suppose to. Its useless, why keep it around?

We must take this a step further and look at the context. Jesus had just finished referring to the fires of Gehenna. Why does a comment about salt follow a statement about it being better to go through life maimed than to be sent to Hell (Gehenna) with one's limbs intact?

The transition statement and our clarification lies in Mark 9:49:

"Everyone will be salted with fire."

There were fires that burned continuously in a dump south of Jerusalem (Gehenna) to burn waste and avoid the spread of disease in the city. This is where we get the idea in Mark 9:48 that "the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched" in Hell comes from. Maggots constantly crawled in, on and through this dump and the fires were always kept burning. Fire had a purifying purpose as did salt...and judgment also. This is the key. The meaning of this transition is that the fire would be a fire of persecution and it will have a refining or purifying affect on the lives of those that believe. There is also a high probabilty that there is a cross-reference to Leviticus 2:13 that states:

"Season all your grain offerings with salt. Do not leave the salt of the covenant of your God out of your grain offerings; add salt to all your offerings." Leviticus 2:13

All of this points to a theme for a Christian. Any Christian that endures persecution will be cleansed therefore becoming a more acceptable offering to God. Think about folks. God doesn't want dead lambs and your works, He wants you! He wants your heart! What forges and strengthens one's faith and turns one's heart to God? Hardship, persecution and a profound understanding of dependence on Him. Who else would be suitable to be a leader that is capable of becoming a discipler for a disciple. What did Christ eventually endure? Persecution. What did His followers endure? Persecution. What do they continue to endure? Persecution.

How does Jesus conclude the matter? He simply states, "Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.” We must understand that salt had multiple properties and Jesus is addressing that in a follower or disciple of Him. In this case he is talking about the Rabbinic teaching that salt is wisdom or zest of life. He is telling His disciples to be wise and respond with wit and character or with the zest of life rather than being lifeless or flat like insipid salt or a salt with no flavor...a saltless salt.

I will add one more thing to this not found in the text. Jesus also tells us in Matthew that we are the salt of the earth. I have a question for you. Do you like salt on your corn, on a burger? Do you like a pinch of it here to add a gradual flavor or do you dump the whole shaker on your plate. Salt is powerful folks, it don't take much to season food. Keep that in mind the next time your decide to season someone elses life with Jesus Christ. Odds are, they won't be needing the whole salt shaker. ;)

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