Salt You Say
Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on Matthew 5: 13 – 20. Focus on how salt works in an oven and why Jesus uses that metaphor for us.
If I never see an ounce of salt again it will be too soon. I’m not talking about the table salt that we use to season our food. I’m talking about rock salt. The salt that is used to clear our roads. The salt that destroys the tarmac and leaves pot holes the size of pressure cookers in the road. The type of salt that coats your car and your clothes from driving and walking on it. The type of salt that we are running low on due to the number of storms that have hit everyone from the Midwest to the East coast.
Snow. Ice. Cold. Hey, it’s only the beginning of February, and we’ve already had more cold snaps than the last 10 years put together. We’ve had 10 more inches of snow than we did last year. I’ve cleared paths at home, dug the cars out of the snow, watched the sun thaw the frozen tundra and then cried when it snowed again.
Things were much simpler when I was a child. Yeah, I still had to shovel snow for my mom and dad to clear the way to the garage. But that was all a pretext to building a snowman or ice cave, sledging, or having a snow ball fight.
But there comes a point in life when things become more complicated. I think it must be a different age for everyone, but complicated – not simple – becomes a way of life for all. So when we approach the Sermon on the Mount you know something is up, because it all sounds too simple.
You are the salt of the earth.
You are the light of the world.
This, then, is how you should pray.
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened.
What is Jesus up to? What’s he not telling us? Oh for a child like faith.
This past week I came across an interesting insight into this passage. According to Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh’s Social Science Commentary, “… the salt referred to in this passage, is the leveling agent from paddies made from animal manure, the fuel for outdoor ovens, which were called ‘earth’, and used during the time of Jesus.
The paddies, made from animal manure, would be mixed with salt and then dried in the sun to help the manure burn longer and more evenly. When the fuel was burnt out, the family would throw it out onto the road to be reabsorbed by the earth and to fill in potholes.
Now, I’m not sure that Jesus is paying us a compliment when he compares us to animal dung, but then again we are the salt aren’t we? So that means we are the ones who help the fuel burn longer. We’re the ones that help the fuel burn brighter. We are, if we are the salt of the earth, the ones who do this.
Jesus saw his followers as leveling agents in an impure world. Their example would keep the fire of faith alive even when it was tested to its limits of life and death. Their example would spread faith to those mired in the cultural dung of their day. But if the disciples’ lives don’t provide the example, then they are worthless; and would be nothing more than pothole fodder for their critics.
I like that phrase “… a leveling agent in an impure world.” It brings a touch of the James Bond or Ethan Hunt to the image before us. Great stuff.
And I think, that if there’s one thing that the Sermon on the Mount has to teach, it’s that faith and action go hand in hand. You cannot hide your light under a bushel. Likewise, to hide your faith by inaction would be to betray all that our faith means to us, to deny the saving grace of the cross and God’s example for us.
So if you will allow me I think a good translation of what Jesus is saying would go something like this:
Since salt evens out the heat in the cooking plates an accurate translation would be: “You are the catalyst to get things cooking.”
Now when Jesus refers to hiding our light under a bushel basket he’s saying: “Set a good example. Not to get fame and glory for yourself, but so that others will see God’s goodness through you. For truly I tell you heaven and earth will pass away before the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet and its corresponding vowel will disappear from the Bible.
Which is Jesus’ way of saying, “Don’t think that my teachings replace or reduce the intent or the purpose of the law and the prophets. And don’t think you can skip the details. Details count. But something more than the details are needed. You must align your whole self with what God desires – for that is what the angels in heaven are like.”
Having blessed us Jesus now tells us who we are and what comes from being blessed. Okay, are you ready? Are you ready to do all that is required of you? Well then what are we to do? Absolutely nothing. Not at this moment anyway. At this moment you are simply blessed, now go and be a blessing to others.
For unless you do better than the Pharisees in the matters of right living, you won’t know the first thing about entering the kingdom. Amen