Sunday, August 24, 2008


What can you tell me about salt? No, seriously--I'm asking. I'm trying to understand something.

Jesus calls His followers the "salt of the earth." Back in January or February (hint: this is one of those topics I've been mulling over since then which I have been to lazy to blog about), the small group I belonged to started going through the Sermon on the Mount. (We finished it about a month ago, if that tells you anything.)

Now, I've been going to church since before I was born, and I've heard this sermon sermonised in all sorts of ways, and I still remember the first time I heard anyone (it was my dad) point out that salt not only flavours things, but acts as a preservative. The idea was that we were to go to a world that was decaying and step in with flavour and life. Or something along those lines. I found it pretty inspiring at the time. Evidently I still kind of do, because I still long for my life to have that kind of an impact, but the whole preservative thing doesn't exactly surprise me anymore.

So I was surprised when Pete, who was leading the discussion on this passage, brought up something called the "covenant of salt." It's an Old Testament thing, and I don't really understand it very well, because I don't remember ever having heard about it or noticed it before, but apparently sacrifices to God had to be presented with salt--otherwise they wouldn't be accepted.

I would just like to say--I always knew people who like salty better than sweet were right.

No--actually, I would like to say: why?

And then I would like to ask, as we asked in our small group, what implications and significance does that Old Testament salt-fixation have on the understanding of this passage? If we're the salt of the earth, and salt was necessary for presenting an offering to God, then are we, by our interactions with the rest of the world, tacitly presenting them to God all the time? What does that mean? And is there some kind of--maybe not full, but partial--"acceptance" of the people that Christians are around when Christians present them to God? Maybe that's totally heretical, but I can't help wondering. Some kind of probation or something?

I sort of feel like it's another way of saying (also drawing on the sacrificial system) that we are a "kingdom of priests." I know Jesus is the One True Mediator, but I get the feeling that, by virtue of Him, our job is basically to mediate between the rest of the world and God all the time. Not saving everybody else--only Jesus can do that--but sort of representing our fellow human beings who haven't trusted Jesus yet, to God--bringing them into His presence for "His consideration."

I know, I know. That makes it sound like God doesn't see the sparrow that falls or the non-Christian who doesn't know any Christians, and I don't think that's right either. But I do think there has to be something significant about this detail. It feels heady and daunting and surprising to me. As if nothing on earth could be more vital than for every single one of us to get out of our saltshaker. As if everything I think and say and do had better be one big prayer.


Rhonda said...

I find it interesting that one of the definitions of salt is;
an element that gives liveliness, piquancy, or pungency...
I was also watching Rachel Ray one day and she said something about adding salt during the entire process of cooking (whatever she was cooking) because just adding it at one time or at the table doesn't give the food justice. (in so many words)
What I took from that was how similar it is to life...a little salt along the way and not a heaping all at once brings the most satisfying results.
I don't think I answered your question but I liked your post and wanted to share. Hope that's ok.

Jeff said...

Interesting stuff, Jenn. Thanks for the thought process. I'd never heard about the covenant of salt, nor had I been aware that this was a requirement in sacrifice.
I have pondered the whole salt thing, and in addition to some of your ruminations, I'll share a couple more.

#1) Salt was a sort-of currency. It was incredibly costly, because it was so useful but quite difficult to actually produce. When we say that something is "not worth their salt" we are harkening back to this idea, and probably superstitions about spilling salt are related as well.
In the context of sacrifice, I wonder if it was a way of building in a tithe.
In the context of Jesus words, the thing I've just noticed is that he doesn't simply say "You are the salt" but he says "You are the Salt of the Earth."
He evokes ideas about salt mines, about the difficult creation of salt. I wonder if in addition to all the other symbolism, another thing that is being said is "You are one of the most valueable things in all the Earth."
(It'd be interesting to know about the process for getting salt out of a salt mine and to know if Jesus followers were likely to know much about that process.)
The thing about our value, though, is that it isn't a means to an end. It is an end unto itself.
If Jesus had said "You are the Gold of the Earth." or something, he'd be comparing us to something that only has a secondary, utilitarian value.
The fascinating thing about gold is that it wasn't actually useful except to buy other things that are useful.
I suspect that this is reinforced by the words Jesus follows up with-- if the salt loses it's saltiness, what good is it? Basically, it's just a pile of dusty if it doesn't do what it is supposed to do.

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on the blog with "Rainbow" in the title over at Marty's site and the post about "double standards" over at mine...

Jenn said...

Rhonda--I'd never heard of cooking like that, but it makes a lot of sense, and it makes for good analogies, too. Thanks for the observations.

Also . . . I think I somehow missed out on your new blog; I forgot about your previous message or comment or whatever. How do I get linked back in? (I suppose I could just click on your name up there . . . )

Jeff--thanks for your thoughts, too. I was aware of salt's once being something of a luxury, but I had never thought of it in context of these verses. There very well may be something in that. And I definitely like your idea of its inherent value, and not just value in order to get other things of value. Very cool.

Leelee said...

Hi Jennwith2ns
First of all you don't know me. I came across your site doing what I call "blog hopping." Here is what I found in New Unger's Bible Dictionary. You were right about the salt in sacrifice and covenant with salt. However, I think it was more of a figurative meaning. There are scripture references if you want to research it more.

SALT. Not only did the Hebrews make general use of salt in the food both of man (Job 6:6) and beast (Isa 30:24), but they used it in their religious services as an accompaniment to the various offerings presented on the altar (Lev 2:13, "every grain offering of yours, moreover, you shall season with salt"). The salt of the sacrifice is called "the salt of the covenant of your God," because in common life salt was the symbol of a covenant. The meaning that the salt (with its power to strengthen food and preserve it from putrefaction and corruption) imparted to the sacrifice was the unbending truthfulness of that self-surrender to the Lord embodied in the sacrifice, by which all impurity and hypocrisy were repelled. In addition to the uses of salt already specified, the inferior sorts were applied as a manure to the soil or to hasten the decomposition of dung (Matt 5:13; Luke 14:35). Too large a mixture, however, was held to produce sterility; and hence also arose the custom of sowing with salt the foundations of a destroyed city (Judg 9:45), as a token of its irretrievable ruin.

See also Mineral Kingdom.

Figurative. As one of the most essential articles of food, salt symbolized hospitality (see Covenant of Salt). Of the ministry of good men, as opposing the spiritual corruption of sinners (Matt 5:13); of grace in the heart (Mark 9:50); of wisdom or good sense in speech (Col 4:6); graceless believers as salt without savor (Matt 5:13; Mark 9:50); from the belief that salt would, by exposure to the air, lose its virtue; salt pits was a figure of desolation (Zeph 2:9); "salted with fire" (Mark 9:49) refers to the purification of the good and punishment of sinners.
(from The New Unger's Bible Dictionary. Originally published by Moody Press of Chicago, Illinois. Copyright (c) 1988.)

Jenn said...

Leelee--thanks for stopping by, and thanks for the insights. My friend "the Milk Guy," who is not a Christian and has very little sympathy for its ideas, wanted to know about the destruction aspect of salt, and I hadn't known what to do with that, either.

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