Thursday, January 14, 2010

More thoughts on salt: What did Jesus mean?

I keep coming back to salt, in my thoughts these days. What did Jesus mean when he said (Matthew 5:13) that we are the “salt of the earth”? What does salt do?

Well, salt has two great properties.
First, of course, salt gives flavor to things. To cook with salt and to add salt to dishes just plain make them taste good! Without the addition of salt, meat and pasta and rice and vegetables and salads--even bread and many pastries--taste bland and insipid. We have to add salt to make these dishes taste good. Obvious!

But what is surely less obvious is the idea that that the world needs the salt that we provide—that the world is insipid and lacking in tastiness without the salt that we bring to it. Somewhat counter to most people’s thoughts on the deliciousness of the world, no? (Do most people believe they need Christ's truth for their life to seem tasty?) So why does the world need our salt to taste really good? The flavor and goodness that Christ’s salt (delivered by us) brings are clearly of a higher order than ordinary NaCl. Christ's salt gives a certain, well, bite! This shift to a higher order of meaning when Christ is speaking of food and drink is also very clear in his use of words such as water, wine, yeast and bread.

But this higher order savor of salt also brings us to its other great property—one which was particularly important in the past: salt purifies, protects, and preserves from corruption. This preservative function is of course why so many kinds of meat and fish were salted, before people routinely had access to refrigeration. Just think of bacon and salt pork, jerky, salted fish (such as bacalao), and so on. Meat and fish must still be salted and/or dried in many parts of the world.

But to move back up to the higher level of meaning: salt’s preservative quality is why it was a major element or "ingredient" in the offerings to God in the Old Testament and in the temple sacrifices--and why it is still important in the liturgies of baptism and the anointing of the sick. Salt is one of the symbols of eternal life: the soul is saved from corruption and death.

So, let’s keep adding the salt, literally and spiritually. We—and the world—all need it.

Sometime soon, some further thoughts on salt. (It is still on my mind.)

1 comment:

  1. The importance of salt is reflected in the large number of ritual texts of the blessing of salt - attested for example in Croatian Glagolitic liturgical manuscripts from the 14th century on. Salt was blessed on Sundays and on the Feast of St Stephen. The ritual reflected the dogma of the Incarnation. The short prayer explicitly connects salt (which cleanses and saves from the devil)with the Incarnation of Jesus; the text itself is of Eastern/Byzantine origin.