Extreme Metaphor: Salt and Dung

Luke 14:34-35

 

Salt and Vinegar;             Sea salt;                     Salted peanuts;

Salt and pepper;              Bath salt;                   Salted babies;

Ready salted;                    Table salt;                 Salted Pringles;

Salt tablets;                        Salted slugs;             Salted dung;

Saltless salt.                       Salted speech;         Road salt;

 

Salt is an amazing thing.  Very important to the human body.

We live in a high-salt culture which is not so good for us.

 

Matthew 5 –  “You are the salt of the earth; You are the light of the world.”

This is about shining out and spreading out.

The rest of the Sermon on the Mount explains what that looks like.

 

We know that salt serves different functions:  It preserves and flavours.

(Personally, I think my Cambodian pepper is better than salt):

(“You are the pepper of the earth!”)

So we know Jesus is calling us to flavour and light up a decaying and dark world.

Note that Jesus never challenges us to be these things, he just says we are.

 

So salt flavours and preserves that which is bland and perishing.

So this is a missional function (are you listening Tony?).

As a pile of salt on its own, salt does nothing.

It must be placed on the bland, flavourless and perishing food.

It must go.  It must be sprinkled.  It is missional: to the the least, last and lost.

 

But as Brian May once sang, “Too much love will kill you”;

Apart from the Rock ‘n Roll hyperbole, it is more true that too much salt will kill you.

 

Still.  Salt is very interesting.

Salt baths (we have Himalyan rock salt).  They contain many minerals, including:

Potasium & magnesium.  These are good for the nervous system, stress reduction and help relieve water retention (tell that to the slug)!

 

Salt water can help  too:

Reduce bad breath and heal sore gums;       Soothe sore throat;

Relieve acne;         In exfoliation packs to remove dead skin;

Treats insects bites;         ¼ tea spoon in water helps with digestion (apparently)!

 

I once ate a whole Shredded Wheat after mistaking sugar for salt….rank!

 

The ancient Hittites (2500+ years ago) and ancient Assyrian Empires would “Salt the earth” when they conquered an enemy.

This was a phrase designed to say the land had a new owner, and that the old owner will never use it again.  It was a ritual and symbolic act:

In other words:  There’s a new king in town.

The ritual symbolized a curse on the defeated and surviving inhabitants.

 

Abimelech did exactly this in Judges 9:45 in Shechem.

If you think that’s bad, scan down to v53, where a woman threw an “upper millstone” on Abimelech’s head and crushed his skull…….How strong was she?

Google “ancient millstone” and you’ll realise she was a tough cookie!

 

Fast-forward to an English poem c. 1370.  It tells of the Roman Emperor Titus, responsible for the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70 “commanding the sowing of salt on the site of the Temple when it was destroyed.”

 

“You are the salt of the earth!”

Salt has been used so negatively, that it could be “You are salting the earth…for destruction.”

But no.

 

Lev 2:14     Salt must be used with the sacrifices.

Ezekiel 43:24 Ezekiel’s vision of the New Temple and New Offerings shall sprinkle salt on them.

Ezra 6:9  Salt was ordered to be part of the priests portion.

Ezekiel 16:9 refers to babies being washed with water then rubbed with salt.  In the Hebrew mind, this symbolizes hope for a life of integrity and truthfulness.

So salt is now important in:

A king who conquers land.

A sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins.

An offering to make the priests food taste better.

A cleansing and healing upon being born (linked with integrity and truthfuloness).

 

But there’s more.

I discovered something in the Bible as if for the first time.  It was amazing (to me at least)!

 

2 Chronicles 13:5

“Don’t you know that the LORD, the God of Israel, has given the kingship of Israel to David and his descendants for ever by a covenant of salt?

 

A what?

 

Salt as a preservative and a covenant of salt refer to the covenant God has with biblical Israel.

Namely, it is a long preserved covenant.

This says more about God’s goodness than Israel’s faithfulness or otherwise.

When nations became allies and then entered an agreement/covenant, a communal meal of salted meat was the main feature.

The meat and the salt was used in the sacrificial ceremony binding them together.

 

So a “covenant of salt” is not only a “long preserved covenant”

but a significant sign of friendship”.

That’s one link to Mark 9:50, when Jesus says,

“Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

 

In other words:  “Have God’s own long preserved covenant of friendship in yourselves, based on the sacrificial death of Jesus the Prince of Peace, who made peace by the shedding of his blood on the cross and thus won our peace.”

 

The mark of a disciple, a follower of Jesus, is the salty life of covenantal peace.

No salt = a covenant ignored.

No peace = rotten meat sacrificed and shared, and thus a cause for war.

 

Hence Colossians 4:6

“Let your conversation always be full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

 

When talking about the tongue, James asks some rhetorical questions very much in the manner of the ancient prophet Amos (3:11):

Does a spring pour out both fresh and salt water?           Can a fig tree produce olives?

Or a grapevine produce figs?               Or a salt pond yield fresh water?

 

No.  Of course not. Stupid questions.

And so we come back to Luke 14:34-35.

 

V34 “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?

It can neither lose its taste, and thus cannot be restored.

Salt is not either salty or not salty.  Salt is salty.

 

As we saw last week when Jesus lamented over Jerusalem, as a Mother Hen longs to gather her chicks…but the chicks were unwilling (i.e. God’s covenant people who had used salt in their sacrifices and made covenants of salt/friendship with God were not willing).

 

For chicks to refuse the Mother Hen of last week, is the same as salt to lose its saltiness this week – an impossibility – an abnormal; outrageous; monstrous; out-of-character – madness!

 

Jesus is talking about salt here in the context of going to Jerusalem to seal the ‘Sign of Friendship’ the New Covenant in his blood, to make humanity, who were enemies of God, into friends, sharing a meal together (communion)!

Jesus is talking about the cost of following him.

 

A disciple must choose Jesus before all other relationships (14:26):

It is impossible to follow otherwise.

A disciple must carry his cross and put Christ before his own life (14:27).

It is impossible to carry a cross and put your own life first, in exactly the same way a

          Levitical priest could not make offerings for forgiveness of sins without salt.

A disciple must carefully consider the cost of the building or the war (14:28-33).

It is impossible to build or fight when the resources and wisdom run out!

 

Hence Jesus says, we become like salt that is not salty.

An utter incomprehensible impossibility.

In fact, this situation is so bad.

 

For the chicks who refused the Mother Hen last week, their rejection of Jesus sealed their doom in a city and Temple and land that were levelled by the Romans 40 years later.

 

For disciples today, much of what passes for Christianity is in fact, sadly, saltless salt.

Look what happens to saltless salt in Luke 14:35 – it’s pretty bad.

 

In other words:  It’s not even good enough to go on animal poo!

How bad is that?

Poo is one step up from a saltless Christian disciple – according to Jesus!

This is Jesus’ own challenge:  Don’t play games here!  It is all or nothing. In or out.

We are either tasty or not.  We’re either salty or not.

We are either preserving food that could rot or we’re not even good enough to try and preserve some animal poop.

 

Jesus is telling us:  To lose your flavour is the worst of it all.

Worse than the rotting meat and dark world into which we are sent as disciples!

Now, if you keep your saltiness, you might make it to the poo pile.  Preserve that!

 

“Yep, Tony, you’re still salty, good enough for the manure pile, off you go!

Not you Richard….you’re not even good enough for the dung.

In fact, you Richard, will make this fine pile of dung even worse.

You will render this pile useless.  You will de-value it; spoil it.

You, Richard, would cause the dung itself to fail.

Even dung that loses its dung-ness is useful.  But you….saltless salt…….?”

 

I finish with the same words Jesus uses to finish:

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Amen.

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(c) Gralefrit 2015

 

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