by Rev. Dr. Krista S. Givens
Do you have a favorite teacher?
My favorite elementary teacher at Vista del Valle Elementary School in Claremont was named Miss Gertrude Riggle. She taught my fourth grade class and had taught my brother and sister as well. In fourth grade, I was diagnosed with a degenerative hip disease and endured 4 surgeries (body-casts and recovery time) during my fourth and fifth grade years. Miss Riggle is my favorite teacher, not because of what she did in the classroom… that was good, but not life changing. She is my favorite because of what she did outside the classroom.
Miss Riggle was a good Christian woman – a member of the Disciples of Christ denomination – and she took her discipleship seriously, so when an eleven-year-old child was homebound and recovering from surgery, Miss Riggle visited weekly, brought my homework, counseled my distraught parents. She cared. Through surgery and crutches and missed tests and makeup work, through elementary and high school and seminary and ministry. She cared about me – and she didn’t really “HAVE” to.
That is her legacy – she cared, she went out of her way for my family, she showed her discipleship outside of church, outside of the classroom, she was the salt.
Our scripture lesson today talks about being salt, about being salty.
“Salt is good;” states Mark, chapter 9, verse 50 “but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
Matthew and Luke translate this statement from Mark’s gospel into similar sayings: “You are the salt of the earth” beckons Matthew, instructing the followers of Jesus to flavor the earth with the seasoning of Christianity.(1) But what does it mean to be the salt of the earth? How can we discover what Jesus meant?
This morning we will use the tools of reason to discover the meaning of this phrase. We will:
1. Understand the image: what is salt?
2. Understand the context: What part of the Jesus story comes before and after this saying?
3. Understand the application: What does it mean for us?
* Okay, so we begin by asking: what is salt. What is it used for? Salt is used:
- To season ordinary food – Because salt was seen as a necessity of every household, this could symbolize the hospitality that created and maintained strong friendships. There is an Arab expression that says, “there is salt between us” meaning we are bound together by salt.
- ln covenantal sacrifices – According to Jewish law in Leviticus 2:13, every sacrifice made to God must be salted before it is offered on the altar. This was important especially for those animal sacrifices that were to be eaten after being offered to God – This was called the “Covenant of Salt.”
But this was not only a practice of the Ancient Hebrews, but many other ancient civilizations as well. Salt was included among funereal offerings found in ancient Egyptian tombs from the third millennium BC, as were salted birds and salt fish.
- As a preservative – How do we preserve food? Using canning, chemicals and refrigeration, but these methods have only been around for about 200 years, Before that, salt was the primary preservative, especially for meat. Salt defended dead meat from the inevitable attack of corruption. Salt made the meat ENDURE; Salt PROTECTS and DEFENDS that which is precious.
So, we are salt, Jesus tells us… Are we the flavor added to ordinary life? Are we considered that extra element that makes life HOLY? Are we made to endure, to last when all expectations point to our corruption and defilement? lt is still unclear… So we must look at the context.
Step Two: Understand the context:
Immediately before this passage, we hear a report from the disciples: They witnessed a man casting out demons and they stopped him, because he was not “one of them.” The disciples, in Mark 9:17-29, were confronted by a man who begged them to cast a demon from his son… and they could not do it! And now they are preventing someone else from doing the work they themselves weren’t able to do!
But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. (2)
I have often heard the phrase “lf you’re not for us, your against us…” but this is different. lf one is not fighting against us, he or she is on our side, doing what needs to be done: they too are a part of our mission.
“Salt is good,” says Jesus, but if it has lost its saltiness… what good is it?” Have the disciples lost their saltiness? ls this anonymous man, exorcising demons, more salty than the ones following Christ?
“Do not stop him,” Jesus says, “he is doing good in my name. Do not stop the work of Christ, even if it comes from an unexpected source.” And then Jesus goes through a list of terrible things to prove his point:
“If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones – does he mean children? More likely, he means people who are “young in the faith” – just learning about the faith, perhaps Gentiles,
“lf you block these new followers,”
“it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell… ‘For everyone will be salted with fire.
Everyone will be salted with fire… here is salt used for a difference purpose. Salt is also a symbol of desolation and barrenness as seen Psalm 107:33-34,
He turned rivers into a desert, flowing springs into thirsty ground, and fruitful land into a salt waste, because of the wickedness of those who lived there.
This is due to the practice of salting the earth after a city was conquered. This way, the ground would not produce crops for some time, giving the land time to rejuvenate, thus destroying the history and land-ownership and fruit-bearing of the past… and beginning again.
Perhaps Jesus is encouraging us to be salt – to destroy our past lives, so that we too, can begin again. Perhaps Jesus is telling us, “You can start anew! You can be new people and have a new life, free from the bounds of the past!”
ln 1930, Mahatma Gandhi began a march later known as the “Dandi March” or the “Salt Satyagraha” with 78 companions, to protest British imperialism in India and in particular the British tax on salt. He walked through villages, gathering marchers until three weeks later he arrived with 50,000 fellow- marchers in Dandi, at the seashore.
There, Gandhi raised a lump of salty mud and declared, “With this, I am shaking the foundations of the British Empire.” He then boiled it in seawater, producing illegal salt. He implored his thousands of followers to likewise begin making salt along the seashore, “wherever it is convenient” and to instruct villagers in making illegal, but necessary, salt. (3)
Perhaps Jesus is instructing us to be the salt that is scattered in the crops of our old lives, our former ways, our previous lives, so that we can begin again… in a statement that declares loudly “This is what I believe!” or in a small action that shows others we have begun anew.
Step Three: Understand the Application – what does this mean to us?
How are we demonstrating our saltiness? How is our being salt making a difference. What will be our legacy of saltiness in this world? Do we need an estate to leave, a fortune to bequest? What will be our legacy of saltiness?
When 10-year-old Katie Stangliano planted her cabbage seeds in the backyard garden of her South Carolina home a few years ago, I doubt she thought she would be an example of the love of God in a sermon. But when her cabbage grew to over 40 pounds she decided to donate it to a local food program called Fields to Families program, which brings fresh produce to the needy. Her cabbage was ultimately cooked and distributed by Tricounty Families Ministry in North Charleston, South Carolina and it fed nearly 300 people.
She was so inspired by this event – that her efforts could help so many people who are hungry in her community – that she decided to educate other people in her community about the possibility to conquer world hunger. “By planting a garden or just some seeds in a pot you can make a difference.” She said, “My cabbage alone fed 275 people. lf more kids did the same, we all could be helping to make a long-time dream of no hungry people possible.” Katie has since planned and oversees a garden at her school and won a T-shirt design contest, with proceeds benefitting world hunger programs. The T-shirts read on the front “My Dream…No Hungry Children,” and on the back, it says: “It Will Only Take a Seedling.” (4)
What will be your legacy? A cabbage? A visit to a needy family? A movement of historical proportion? How do we show our saltiness to the world?
“You can do it!” Says Jesus. “You can make a difference. You can begin again. You can be the people of God.” As we continue to walk this journey together, with Jesus as our leader, let us discover our own saltiness and be the true salt of the earth: salt that seasons the ordinariness of life; salt that preserves and protects us from that which is spoiled; and salt that defines a new life in Christ. Amen.
1 . Matthew 5:13 ‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? lt is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot’ Luke 14:34-35 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It as if neither, for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.”
2. Mark 9: 39