Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What does Salt do?

Tonight, my mom and I were taking care of my dad, and we were brushing his teeth and gums with a saline solution.  (He can no longer eat food because of his advanced sickness and thus he requires special mouth care.)   He is currently fighting a gum infection.

This set me again to reflecting on Jesus' words in Matthew chapter 5 where he calls his followers "the salt of the earth."   It's a powerful and profound word choice because salt does many things.

Tonight we were using salt to help fight infection.  My dad's gums are deteriorating from lack of use and an inability to adequately take care of his mouth.   Harmful bacteria have invaded and he is now suffering from a painfully irritating condition.  Since it's onset a few days ago, he's been constantly grinding his teeth.  (He can't talk, so I'm assuming this means that it hurts.)  And today, tragically, one of his teeth popped out!   The doctor has prescribed an antibiotic, but along with it we are using a most primitive antiseptic -salt.  Salt will help to bring healing and health to my father's mouth.  That's what salt does, and that's what Jesus followers are meant to do.

Christians are to help bring healing and health to a world infected with sin, full of suffering and tormented by pain.  

Related to this, salt is also a powerful preservative.  I learned this most impressively when we lived in Spain.  We've all heard that our forefathers used salt to keep their food fresh before modern refrigeration came along, but most of us don't do that any more.  In Spain however, one of the most popular foods is salt cured ham or Jamon Serrano.

To make this ham you take a whole pig leg and bury it in sea salt for over a week and then hang it up to dry for a few months.  Without the salt bath the meat would rot within days or even hours if it was hot outside!  A leg of ham left to itself will become a rotting, stinking, disgusting maggot infested chunk of biomass fit only for the trash.  But with salt, it's a whole different story.  Carnage gets redeemed.  The salt preserves the ham and enables it to be edible -not to mention delicious for months!

Commenting on Jesus' words here, Dietrich Bonhoeffer says:
But now Jesus calls them the salt of the earth -salt, the most indispensable necessity of life.  The disciples, that is to say, are the highest good, the supreme value which the earth possesses, for without them it cannot live.  They are the salt that sustains the earth... (The Cost of Discipleship chapter 7)

Salt brings life, salt fights death.  The preservation of the world and it's inhabitants continues as long as there is salt!   Without Christ's followers (the body of Christ!)  sharing God's love, serving, helping and blessing, the world would only be rotten sin filled carnage.  Redemption comes thru the salt, the disciples of Jesus.

And obviously, as I've already mentioned, salt makes things taste good.  Not much Jamon Serrano in the States, but we sure know about bacon!  One of the best foods ever; it's full of salt!   And bacon makes everything taste better.  (First century Jews unfortunately never got to experience this blessed gift...I love the New Covenant!)  Salt eradicates blandness, makes food enjoyable and completely improves it!  Christians are likewise supposed to make the world better by bringing the goodness and joy of Christ to life.  
Christians help to make people's lives taste better!

Jesus certainly had these things in mind when he called us the salt of earth over 2000 years ago.  I have one more thought that Jesus' desert dwelling 1st century followers could not have imagined, but is still (I think) quite applicable.

Each year the state of New York (not to mention private businesses and even home-owners) spends millions of dollars a year on salt for the purpose of road de-icing.  Without the dedicated and efficient salting of our roads life as we know it in the Northeast would be stopped by the harshness of winter.  Without salt we wouldn't be able to see the roads much less drive on them!  Our health would suffer, our economy would suffer, our fellowship would suffer!  But we travel clean beautiful roads all winter long.   Road Salt makes "the way" accessible.  Likewise, as salt  Christians proclaim Christ and enable the world to see, travel, understand -and "know" THE WAY. (John 14:6)

In short, God created salt to heal, preserve, improve, and make life accessible to the world.

Here's our friend Adam Hilker plowing snow in Ithaca. 

1 comment:

  1. My heart aches for your Dad, and for your Mom and all of you who are caring for him. ALS is (in my experience with friends here) a very cruel disease. I do pray for your family.

    I was interested to see your post about salt. I have a salt-wasting disease and disorder of the kidneys. If I do not drink salt water every day, I will die. Salt, as you know, is one of the primary electrolytes in the body, and cardiac function stops without it. In order of necessity to human life, air is #1, water is #2, and sodium is #3. I did not realize you were using it to help your Dad, too.

    Continuing to remember all of you, with love

    Cathy Groves