“Salt makes people thirsty. People are thirsting for more of His word. Sisters and brothers pour salt on each other. You are the salt, the salt of the earth.” These lyrics from an old song from my Christian youth group days really tells the story of a central purpose of the faith in our everyday lives. We really are to be “salt” and “light” to our world.
Since the most ancient of times salt has been important to the cultures who had it. In fact, there was a time when salt was even used as currency. Where do you think the old saying came from “He’s worth his salt.”
Salt has been used to preserve, season, and cure illness. Even in our Orthodox cultures salt has been used to express hospitality and welcome. Several Orthodox traditions have salt as a gift when the bishop arrives at a parish. The bishop is met at the door of the church with bread and salt to mark the joyous occasion of his visit. I never will forget the first time I saw this done. It was a powerful moment that made the scriptures I had read my whole life come alive right before my eyes!
Just look at the Gospel Lesson the Church has us read on this day where the Feast of the Nativity is almost upon us: The Lord said, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea. And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go to Gehenna, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. For every one will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its saltness, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again; and again, as his custom was, he taught them. See Mark 9:42-50; 10:1
“Everyone will be salted with fire.”(Mark 9:49) Whoa, wait a second. What? Everyone? Yes, everyone. What is powerful from this passage is that we are confronted with the reality of our true purpose. We are meant to be transformed by the Message of the Gospel to the point that we are empowered to choose truth over convenience, peace over chaos, and authentic love over the easier and lesser vision of mere rule-keeping. We are called to take sin so seriously that we embrace the fire of God’s love now and allow His “fire” to purify us so that it won’t be our torment in eternity because of our willful rejection of His love!
You see, for the Orthodox sin is seen as a disease and repentance is the cure. It makes more sense of the passage when you look at sin as disease rather than mere rule keeping or breaking when you read that Jesus prescribes amputation to deal with the “sin” in body parts. Better to go into heaven as an amputee than to slip into eternity whole but sick! The “fire” of God’s love can make you “salty” now and able to preserve and season and make life as it should be. As the Lord, promises, everyone WILL be “salted” with “fire.” But God has made us free to choose whether we are willing to be “salted” with “fire” now, in this life to purify our hearts and heal our sin sickness, or whether we will foolishly put off this “salting” until the last day where this “fire” will torment us rather than make us whole!
So, the metaphors of “salt” and “fire” aptly describe the purpose of the life of loving discipleship to our Lord Jesus for us now, today!
Today, as we get closer and closer to the Manger where God enters His world to perform the ultimate spiritual healing on the universe, let us treat our sin as the dangerous disease it is and not continue to make excuses or ignore the growing infection of illness that will eventually prove fatal for our spiritual selves. Let’s allow the “salt” of the truth to be rubbed into the wound of our repentance and watch as the grace of God makes us salty! And when that happens those around us will get “thirsty” for our wellness and they will “taste” and “see” how good the Lord is. As we approach the “fire” kindled on the earth in the Manger, let’s allow this “fire” to “salt” us and make our lives a source of healing to the world!