Salt, part 4

The hodgepodge crowds from around Galilee gathered together along the shoreline of the Sea. They anxiously waited to hear what this teacher would say. The rabbi stood atop the hill, looking down towards the crowds below, full of fishermen, bakers, farmers, and businessmen. A hush fell over the people, and the rabbi said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”

And so begins the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus begins his most famous sermon with blessings. When Jesus blesses the poor in spirit, the meek, those in mourning, those hungering and thirsting for righteousness, people in the crowd new, “Hey, he’s talking about me.” These are the peasants, the outcasts, the beat-down, the lonely, the poor, the broken, and the have-nots. They were not among the spiritually elite. They were ordinary, helpless people who longed to hear some good news from God, because according to their preachers and rabbis, God blesses those who have it all together.

Not according to this rabbi. This rabbi says that God blesses those who are on the down and out. He comes down, meets them where they are, and blesses them.

After finishing the blessings, his next words are, “You are the salt of the earth.”

Who is the salt of the earth? My whole life I heard this verse in the context of Christianity. Those who have been saved by God, those set apart from this world, and those who are perfect example of following Christ — those people are the salt of the earth. Right?

But in context, Jesus is talking directly to these people who are spiritually starved. They are tired, run down, and tossed aside. They don’t have it all together, they don’t have all the answers, and they certainly don’t feel set apart for anything. Yet these people are the salt of the earth.

What are some of the qualities of salt? Most people know that salt is used to season food that is bland, and it can be used as a preservative, like for meats and such. But as we’ve seen over the last few posts, salt can be used to purify and cleanse. It has healing aspects to it. And salt was extremely valuable in ancient times.

So when Jesus says that these people are the salt of the earth, that term is loaded. They bring flavor to the complacent world around them. They are preserving the world from certain ruin. They purify and cleanse the sin that so easily infects mankind. And most of all, they are valuable. They have worth beyond imagine.

That’s good news! This is a blessing within itself.

So be salt for someone — offer healing and cleansing to those in need, and add some flavor to the complacency of life.

And know that you are salt — you have value and worth beyond compare, so let God use you.

Salt, part 3

They stood at a crossroads. Abraham and Lot decided to part ways in order to prevent more violence and bloodshed between their respective families and hired hands. As they looked out over the land of Canaan, Lot chose the lush, wealthier region to the south near the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot goes south, Abraham goes north.

Flash forward several years and Lot had really made a home for himself. He and his family had moved into town, made a living, and remained faithful to God. Then one day, God sends some messengers to do some undercover investigation. Lot invites, or urges rather, the travelers to stay at his place for the night. You know the rest of the story. The men of the city threaten to gang rape the newcomers, and God decides at that point to destroy the cities completely.

God gave Lot enough warning to get his family out, telling them to never look back. As fire rains down from the sky, Lot, his wife, and two daughters make a run for it, never looking back.

Well, except for Lot’s wife.

For centuries, salt has been mined, gathered, and traded as currency. There is evidence that ancient civilizations actually used molded salt as coins. Entire cities and highways were built along salt mining and trading routes. Slaves were often bought with salt, hence the term “worth his salt.” Roman soldiers were largely payed in salt – which is where we get the English word for salary. There was even a time when salt was traded ounce for ounce with gold.

Salt was a sign of wealth and prosperity. It was something special to be brought out for guests at a meal. It was something precious, something of worth.

Salt was valuable.

So Lot’s wife looked back at the ruin and destruction. She wasn’t rubber-necking like we do on the highway as we pass by the overturned trailer. She looked back with longing, with sorrow, with a desire to have it all back. She looked back like a college student leaving home for the first time, or like a lover who has just been dumped. She would have rather gone down with the ship.

“Lot’s Wife” on Mt. Sodom

Why couldn’t she let go? Well, we know they were a wealthy, well-respected family. They had herds, land, a large house, friends, family…and they had to leave it all behind. They had called this place home for many years, and she couldn’t help but look back with longing as her whole life went up in flames.

So God turned into a pillar of salt. Her longing for wealth consumed her entire being at that moment, and she literally became that which she longed for the most.

What in your life is worth turning back for?

Salt, part 2

Salt is a curious substance. Just about every living creature needs small amounts of sodium chloride to keep it alive and healthy. However, too much salt can start to cause major health problems, like high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease in humans just to name a few. Salt is a naturally occurring substance in nature, especially in rock deposits and ocean water. It’s needed for life. However, if there is too high of a salt concentration in the soil, plants cannot grow. And if there is too high a concentration in the water, fish cannot live.

This is why we have a place called the Dead Sea. Located at the lowest point on land, the Dead Sea is literally a drainage pool collecting all the minerals and salts from the land around it. The Dead Sea is completely incapable of supporting life within its waters. What’s more, none of the land surrounding the Dead Sea is capable of supporting life. There is no naturally occurring plant growth for miles around. Just off the shore is an entire mountain made completely our of salt and a few other minerals.

Yet in one of the most lifeless spots on planet earth we find healing. King Herod built one of the first health resorts on its banks. Even today, there are a number of hotels, resorts, and spas surrounding the Dead Sea. What we have found over the years is that the same minerals which prevent the formation and sustenance of life also bring healing and restoration to our bodies. It cleanses the skin by removing the dead skin cells and toxins. After a dip in its waters, one’s skin feels smooth and refreshed.

Life, healing, and restoration are found in a place characterized by death and barrenness.

Salt, part 1

I’ve taken a hiatus from writing as I have been focusing on being a dad. It’s been about 5 months, and now I feel like putting my thoughts out there in the blogoshpere once again. So here we go…

Elijah’s story runs throughout the 2nd half of 1 Kings. He is one of the first major prophets since the time of Samuel. He is even thought of as the prophet in the line of Moses that was promised back in Deuteronomy. But I don’t want to talk about Elijah right now. I want to talk about Elijah’s protege, apprentice, and successor – Elisha.

Elisha’s name literally means “God saves”. And just as Elijah was a type of Moses, so Elisha is a type of Joshua (whose name means “YHWH saves”). Elijah’s time on the earth has come to an end by 2 Kings 2, and he takes Elisha on a journey outside the land of Israel across the Jordan which is parted before them so they may walk across on dry ground. Elijah is then taken up into heaven in a fire tornado, leaving Elisha all alone to carry out the work of God.

Elisha, just like Joshua before him, crosses the Jordan on dry ground as he enters the land. The first city he comes to is Jericho, which was conquered and cursed by Joshua. If anyone were to rebuild the walls of Jericho, he would bring a curse upon himself and the land. But as we all know, it was impossible for the Israelites to leave well enough alone, so they rebuilt the city and its walls several centuries later. And, surprise!, the ground and the water were cursed because of their disobedience.

So along comes Elisha, God’s newly established frontman. The people know that God is with him, so they come out to him begging for his help. They say the water is cursed, and it’s causing death and miscarriages and crop failure. In today’s world, we would be digging up pipes, running all kinds of tests, shipping in bottled water, and doing everything within our power to fix whatever was making our water bad. But Elisha didn’t do that.

And it wasn’t lead, or pesticide, or any other toxic waste. It was the curse they brought on themselves by disobeying God’s commands. Elisha could have simply rubbed it in their faces that they deserved what they got. They were under God’s curse. He could have left it at that and moved on. But Elisha didn’t do that either.

He got a bowl, placed some salt in that bowl, and threw the salt into the water. To this day, the text tells us, the water was cleansed, and it no longer caused death or miscarriage or famine.

Elisha reversed the curse. Not bad for an inaugural act as head prophet.