Salt For Society

British Hyrams
(Psalm 19:7-14, Mark 9:50)

Our New Testament scripture comes from the book of Mark, one of three synoptic gospels, it has the same general outline and content as Matthew and Luke. Mark is the shortest of the 3, and is generally believed to have been written first.

Listen to the Word of the Lord from Mark 9:50

Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it?Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.

This is the word of the Lord, thanks be to God!

Context is everything. I can guarantee you that statements I have made with great passion, when taken out of context would give you a whole different opinion of me!  Because context is everything!

Advertisements are particularly good at leaving out, adding to or changing the circumstances surrounding the person, place or thing they want to sway you to embrace or reject. I don’t care if the ad is for Cheerios, the ASPCA, or eHarmony, the framing of the 30-60 second commercial is specifically designed to manipulate you into acting a certain way. Right now, we are inundated with political ads for Mecklenburg political races and the “do over” district 9 congressional race – hold on, we are almost at Election Day.  Then we wait for the onslaught of ads for the presidential election – oh joy!

For the same reasons I just mentioned, I encourage you to always (like ALWAYS) investigate the context of a passage of scripture, especiallywhen only one verse is quoted or referenced.  To your shock and amazement, you may find that people will leave out, add to, or change the context of scripture in order to manipulate. I am going to summarize the scripture that precedes verse 50, but please read it for yourself as well. Looking at the context will help us understand the framework for these intriguing words about salt.

In chapters 8 and 9, Jesus begins to prepare the disciples for his death.  But, the disciples don’t quite comprehend what Jesus is saying. In fact, in chapter 9, after Jesus tells them for the 2nd time about his death and resurrection, the gospel of Mark tells us that they don’t understand and are afraid to ask.  So instead on the way to their next destination, the disciples argue about who among them is the greatest and they criticize people outside of their group who are ministering in Jesus’ name. Jesus corrects them in both instances.

Just prior to our scripture text, v50, Jesus employs several graphic metaphors that are serious words about how the disciples have the responsibility to temper their behavior, to sacrifice themselves because of how their behavior can affect others.  Jesus minces no words regarding the consequences of not doing so. Honestly the metaphors are shocking and if they were literal, we would have an abundance of people from ancient days to the present, who have one hand, one foot, and one eye!

In these metaphors that urge the disciples to have self-discipline, Jesus is asking them to focus on what matters; emphasizing that the community as a whole is of the utmost importance. In our individualistic society, we may, unconsciously even, bristle at the suggestion that the well-being of the community comes first, it is above our individual comfort and desires.  

This is not true in every culture. I participated in a seminar on Faith and Money led by Dr. Debra Mumford, where she compared and contrasted typical African worldviews – I believe she used Ghana as a point of reference, many of their perspectives differ greatly from commonly held perspectives in the United States.

For instance, in Ghana, if something is not activelybeing used, it is available for others to borrow. This includes possessions, money, supplies, buildings, land, and equipment. 

Dr. Mumford shared her knowledge of communities where bicycles that are left in one spot for days or weeks is considered selfish. People without bicycles could use them. Therefore, bicycles are left in a common area for use by whomever needs them.  Community members can use the bikes and return them – it’s the honor system.  Do some people take advantage of the arrangement?  Certainly.  But, many Africans, she stated, would rather risk being deceived than risk failing to help someone who is genuinely in need.

And so, warnings regarding the disciples’ responsibility for and to others in the community comprise the text that paves the way for v50.“Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it?Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” these words are thought to be proverbial, at least in part, meaning it was familiar to the hearers who would have known exactly what it meant.  It was proverbial then, but somewhat mysterious now.  The words commentators use to describe verse 50 include: puzzling, curious, and cryptic.  In most every commentary, the similar passages called parallels from Matthew and Luke are consulted to aid in the analysis. Many of you are probably familiar with Matthew 5:13 which begins “You are the salt of the earth”

In the words of verse 50 about salt, there is a turn from serious words with quite a bit of sting to them, to gracious words of encouragement.Salt is good! Jesus says. Salt is essential to life. Salt is one of the 11 elements in our bodies that we cannot live without. Salt plays a crucial role in maintaining human health. Salt is excellent for a variety of reasons. In practical sense, salt is commonly used for preserving, purifying, seasoning, and fertilizing. Nothing elicits a scowl like taking a bite of food that desperately needs a little salt to enhance the flavor. In the spiritual realm, salt is also essential.  Salt can represent wisdom, covenant fidelity, sacrifice, and hospitality or table fellowship among friends and strangers.

Salt is vitally important to the world, and so are the followers of Jesus Christ.  Godly saltiness is not merely for personal benefit, but for the benefit of others in society, in the community. Think about wisdom as spiritual salt for instance, is wisdom really wisdom if it’s not shared? Take a moment to think of someone you consider wise.  He or she can be widely known or not, maybe a member of your family or friend.  Now consider how you came to regard this person as wise.  Words shared with you or others.  Words written in a book you read.  Or perhaps they never said a word but you were able to observe the way they conducted themselves in life or you witnessed how they made decisions.

I found a book on my shelf this week that contained the words and inspiration of Mahatma Gandhi on Peace, the introduction was written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. I don’t know about you, but I believe that both of these human beings contained a measure of wisdom (among other things) that have influenced the world.  In his introduction Archbishop Tutu mentioned a word that was mentioned as Steve, Jodi and I discussed this very scripture! 

Ubuntu. The highest praise that can be given to someone and the essence of what it means to be human. Ubuntu means that the person is someone who will use their strengths on behalf of others … and not take advantage of anyone. They are open and large-hearted, they share their worth. 

Tutu says about Gandhi, “Everything he did was a demonstration of ubuntu – he was driven to help the poor, the sick, and the downtrodden and to free them from colonialism no matter the cost to himself. As demonstrated by Archbishop Tutu, Mahatma Gandhi, grandma or papa, Aunt Elizabeth or Uncle Frank,  maybe even your child or grandchild your friend, coworker, boss or teacher…All Wisdom, including and especially Godly wisdom, is active and practical, a knowledge worked out, lived out in words and deeds.

Verse 50 goes on but if this good thing called salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it?  Perhaps the thought of salt losing its saltiness was absurd or perhaps they knew that corruption with other substances was the only way for salt to lose its flavor. But whatever the case the question seems to imply that losing and restoring saltiness is incomprehensible.

Jesus insists, “Have salt in yourselves.” This is a command to the disciples to “be salty”. Not in the urban dictionary sense of angry, mad or irritated – do people still say that? But salty in terms of clinging to that which makes them vitally important in the world as followers of Jesus Christ. The disciples are being urged to keep, to pursue, to possess spiritual saltiness; holding on to their allegiance to Jesus and the good news of the gospel as it would unfold in the days to come.

Now you may be thinking to yourself, how do I have salt? I’m glad you asked! Based on my studies and in my humble opinion, I submit to you that one aspect of having salt in ourselves, is exactly what we are focusing on today, Rally Day.  Steve read a portion of Psalm 19 earlier, it says in part…that the laws of the Lord revive the soul, the decrees of the Lord make the simple wise

When we come together for Sunday school, Bible Study, Book Studies, and Youth Group, we are doing just that, studying and wrestling with the word of God so that we

  • Can find that which our souls seek
  • Can fulfill the longing in our restless hearts
  • Be reminded of who and whose we are in Jesus Christ
  • Discover the words to utter as a testimony of our faith
  • Gain wisdom, wisdom that is alive and active; wisdom that drives us as we engage in ministry outside the walls of the church like Days of Discipleship and other community based activities, where we are participating with God, living our faith out loud for the benefit of others.

Beloved, we are working on our saltiness, together! Invite your neighbors and friends! 

Oh yeah, that togetherness includes the Holy Spirit. Jesus issues this challenging command to the disciples (includes you and me) because we don’t have to do it alone.  

God in Jesus Christ is with us, by the power of the Holy Spirit enabling us to “have salt.”

Finally Jesus says, “be at peace with one another.” The thought of this is mind boggling given all the conflict and violence in the world but these words also, turn our attention back to the context we talked about earlier, when Jesus warned that society, community is what matters – be at peace with one another. What we do as individuals and as a faith community is for the common good You see, as Jesus’ words are taken to heart and we the followers of Jesus Christ endeavor to “have salt”, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, being at peace with others IS possible 

Salt is essential for the world. As disciples our spiritual salt is not for the benefit of ourselves alone. Followers of the risen Lord Jesus Christ are, salt for society.

Thanks be to God!