When I read the bible reading for today the first thing I did was googled “can salt lose its saltiness. Apart from the bible reading I’ve never heard of it before – and apparently no one else had either. According to the responses that I read it was said – salt simply can’t lose its saltiness. So what was Jesus speaking about when he said that?
Did he have his understanding of salt wrong? Well, I don’t believe so. I believe that what Jesus was referring to was when salt was not doing the task it was intended to do.
Salt has various applications but the ones that come to mind and which could be seen as something Jesus would see as applying to the church would include: Salt a a purifying agent; a preservative; and providing taste.
Salt as a purifying agent
Salt can be used for healing. Some people gargle salt water when they have a sore throat or infection. Some people find that going to the beach can heal cuts and abrasions in their skin with the salt water. Likewise the church can bring healing to a person who is hurting or grieving. The church can bring comfort in times of distress. But salt can also be used in the wrong way in times of hurt and we are familiar with the term “rubbing salt into a wound”. Likewise the church can also bring hurt during times of difficulty or suffering when it focuses on blame and judgment as to why that person is suffering. How often don’t we hear people say – “I must have done something terrible to be suffering like this”?
A person who is hurting doesn’t need to hear the cause of the hurt – they need to hear the comfort God brings. A person who knows that they have done the wrong thing doesn’t need to be reminded of what they have done wrong – they need to hear the word of forgiveness – that God loves them.
When Jesus came and spent time with the “tax collectors and sinners” he was criticised by the righteous Pharisees because they felt he should be spending time with them and not those who disobeyed God. And Jesus reminded them “”It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17). Jesus came to heal the hurting people.
When the woman was caught in adultery and the righteous people wanted to put her to death, Jesus told them to look at their own sin while the woman who knew she had done wrong was forgiven by Jesus. So often the church has brought hurt rather than healing which is when the salt of the church loses its saltiness.
Salt as a preservative.
Salt is used as a preservative and especially before we had refrigeration it was an essential preservative. Today salt is misused as a preservative. As we look at a lot of our refined goods they are laden with salt where nutrients are lost so that shelf-life can be increased. And we know that those salt laden foods are not good for us and the cause of so much obesity.
Likewise the church can sometimes preserve too much. It’s a fine balance where we don’t want to throw out everything so we can be like the world but we also don’t want to lose touch with the world. So the church has changed some of the older traditional ways – modernising the Lord’s Prayer while preserving its meaning – modernising the language of the bible while preserving the accuracy – modernising its music while preserving its focus on God.
But the church can sometimes misuse preservation. So often the church’s message has been along the lines of – you need to change your ways and then you can come back to God. In those cases the church has preserved its ways and it’s the world that needs to come back. But as we look at Jesus’ ministry – he went out to the people where they were.
He didn’t change the ways of God but because the people had strayed from God’s ways didn’t mean that he didn’t go out to them. Like the woman caught in adultery. He went out to her to bring her grace, love and forgiveness to restore her relationship with God and only after that he said – go and sin no more. He didn’t tell to her go and sin no more before you can experience God’s love and grace and forgiveness.
And so the church has often been seen as a relic of the past and the people have not come back. People see the church as being preserved in a time past and that it is no longer relevant. But we know that’s not true. The church is always relevant because God’s grace always needs to be experienced. And remember what Jesus said – he is the same yesterday, today and forever. We don’t change our ways as Jesus said – “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished”. (Matthew 5:18) But what we do is we apply God’s love into a situation to restore. Luther used the term “3rd use of the law” to explain the commandments as a response of love towards God’s love for us and not to receive God’s love. Restoring a person is different to preserving.
Salt providing taste
Salt is an important ingredient in drawing out or supplementing flavour. Can you imagine fish n chips without salt? Even the most expensive restaurant with a world class chef as its cook will have salt on the table. Salt, used properly will enhance and draw out flavour. Salt is different to tomato sauce which we pour on our food to perhaps disguise or cover up the taste of food. Likewise Jesus calls on the church to be the salt in the world. And it does that when it brings flavour to the world by seeing God’s blessings in things – when the church goes out into the world and takes God’s love and blessings into people’s lives.
But salt can lose its “saltiness” when it is misused. When we put too much salt on food it can totally ruin the taste and all you taste is the salt. And so too the church can lose its saltiness when it goes out into the world but fails to provide a source of blessings in the world. When the church divides the world into good and evil. When it sees things that it disagrees with as “evil” or works of the devil rather than seeing it as part of the smorgasbord of God’s creation.
The church struggles in contemporary ways and can be guilty of condemning rather than supporting and understanding. And that’s why so many of our younger demographic feel estranged from the church. They feel that the church is not bringing a message it understands or relates to. And that’s when it loses its saltiness. That’s when people reject the church’s message because all it sees it as is an organisation that condemns and rejects and turns people away. We’ve all heard criticisms of the church and heard images of the church that do not resemble what Jesus’ true meaning for the church was.
The Church was established by Jesus to be his presence in the world – a presence that is to bring grace into the world to restore people’s relationship with God. And that relationship is restored through Jesus Christ and his death on the cross for our sins not by obedience. It was “WHILE” we were yet sinners that Christ died for us (Romans 5:8) As St Paul says today:
I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
If we are to be salt in the world that also needs to be our message too – a message of Jesus Christ and his death for us.
His death was to bring God grace and love and forgiveness and restoration – true salt. Let us not lose that saltiness by bringing something other than salt of Jesus Christ so we may enhance the flavour of God into the world.