What might have been heard when Jesus first coined the phrase:
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.Matthew’s gospel
“Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; they throw it away. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”Luke’s Gospel
You need to imagine yourself from a wee village in Galilee. Your house is like all your neighbours, a single room with an entrance that faces onto a shared courtyard. In the courtyard livestock meander: some hens, a cow, a goat or two; there is a millstone for grinding bread and an earthen oven with a stove. The oven needs fuel to burn – which is were the cow and goats come in handy – because the earthen oven is fueled by manure.
It’s supper time. You need to start a fire on the oven and keep it going. Somebody places something on top of the dung heap. What is it? A block of salt. Salt blocks make dung burn – in this village salt is a catalyst.
Salt blocks don’t last forever, eventually they lose their saltiness and are no longer able to keep a fire going. What to do with them then? Throw them away.
What did that crowd hear Jesus say about salt in this familiar task? What do you hear him say?
I’ll tell you what I hear Jesus say: You are the catalyst for change. Don’t stop being a catalyst for change – because when you do, what use are you to the kingdom.…
That change is personal: bits of myself that I need to let go of – but it’s equally communal: ways of being human that qualify who is worth bothering about, or constitutes a good life.
You are the salt of the earth. Now before we start to panic over our poor salty credentials we need to keep something in mind. The you Jesus is referring to is not a person, but persons: it’s plural. That in itself is a reminder of something the early church understood, which most Protestants have forgotten: “One Christian, no Christian.”
As the Orthodox bishop Kallistos Ware explains: “One can’t be genuinely Christian in isolation. We are saved, not alone, but as members of the Body of Christ, in union with all the other members.” Or as I heard someone describe it, we are carried into heaven in each others pockets.
You are salt, a catalyst: not you or me in isolation but us together. A catalyst for what? Well, stop for a minute – what do you think? Because if its something we do together, then is it not something we consider together?
I suspect how we answer that depends on how much reality we can make room for.
Do you remember the movie the full Monty? It tells the story of a few men from a Northern town who are left unemployed and without any prospect of finding work. So, they decide to take matters into their own hands. They form a dance troupe of sorts.
There is a scene where Dave, who is at the wrong side of the low numbers on the weighing scale, decides to do something drastic about that. One night, he goes to his garden shed, wraps his torso in cellophane, and tries to sweat off some excess pounds. But then he does something else at the same time – he pulls out a chocolate bar and starts to eat it.
“Human kind cannot bear very much reality.”T.S Elliot -Burnt Norton
I listened to Rowan Williams recently, he described why we can’t bear too much reality, he said, “Living in reality ought to be the easiest thing, but it’s the hardest. Because our minds are really active fabricating a world we can cope with.”
When I was on the wards at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, I came into the company of people who were in denial of where their illness would bring them. That’s not an accusation or criticism, but an observation of how, sometimes, things are so difficult for someone that denial becomes a kind of psychological protection against what feels too much to cope with. We’ve probably all crossed that threshold sometime.
Climate change, refugees, homelessness, addictions all are part of a world that feels bigger than we can cope with. So we settle for pictures of ourselves, pictures of the good life, pictures of what brings security and happiness, pictures of why we are right or who we don’t have to bother with.
Rowan Williams went on to say: “Somehow connecting with the reality that is not just the one I make to keep myself comfortable – That’s faith.”
So faith won’t lead you further away from what’s real, it will take you much closer into it.
If you have time, read this short article from today’s Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/feb/18/librarian-moria-tales-hope-refugee-camp
…then ask yourself, what terms am I on, with what’s really happening in the world? What kind of catalyst for the kingdom does church need to move towards? How ready are we to touch a reality that’s more than the one I make to keep myself comfortable? What might we do together in the face of such reality?
At the very least does it not have to be moving in the direction the Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggemann points towards?
“The prophetic tasks of the church are to tell the truth in a society that lives in illusion, grieve in a society that practices denial, and express hope in a society that lives in despair”Walter Brueggemann
A catalyst for truth. A catalyst for grief. A catalyst for hope…
salt any one?