From the Daily Office Lectionary for Monday in the week of Proper 14, Year 1 (Pentecost 11, 2015)
Mark 9:50a ~ Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it?
The Bible is full of metaphors which can be lost on modern American Christians, and this is one of them. We buy our salt (sodium chloride) in neat blue boxes from the supermarket; it’s purified, though it may be mixed with a small amount of an additive to make it run smoothly and flow freely. It may have a bit of granulated sugar added to it because pure salt is too salty for modern tastes! And it may have iodine added to it as a protection against goiter and other iodine deficiency issues; sea salt naturally contained iodine, but highly processed and refined salt does not.
This modern “pure” salt is incredibly stable and does not lose its saltiness. But salt which is mined from deposits such as one might have found in First Century Palestine is not pure. It is an amalgam of sodium chloride with other salts and minerals. If this mixture becomes wet, the sodium chloride can dissolve and leech away. The remaining substance looks the same but the salty flavor is lost and it cannot be brought back.
Followers of Jesus are called to be salty and, like that First Century salt, people are amalgams; we are not pure in any way. And we certainly can lose our “saltiness” as the dampness of life dilutes and leeches it away. What is the “saltiness” that we are meant to retain? What is the human “saltiness” that Jesus is concerned cannot be restored? I’m intrigued that one definition of “salty” is “down-to-earth” whereas the words of Jesus are so often taken to be spiritual and lofty. I’m amused that another is “coarse” in the sense of colorful, spicy, racy, risqué, naughty, vulgar, or even rude, whereas today’s Christians make a show of eschewing such behavior or language.
Time and time again the Gospels remind us that Jesus was a down-to-earth sort of guy. He want to dinner parties and wedding receptions and had a good time. He told jokes, most of which we don’t get because we’ve lost the cultural references (like the impure salt metaphor). He was condemned by the religious people for associating with sinners and was publically criticized as a “winebibber,” the quaint King James English term for “drunkard.” This all suggests to me that the “saltiness” that Jesus here speaks of is not some lofty, holy preservative of morality; it’s that down-to-earth naughtiness that makes life fun. It might be what the French call “joie de vivre.”
There’s a series of advertisements for a brand of beer in which the corporate spokesman, described in the ads as “the world’s most interesting man,” advises consumers, “Stay thirsty, my friends.” I think Jesus is even more interesting that the beer man and, in this gospel story, I see him looking into the camera, thinking of the parties and weddings he has attended and of the sinners he has befriended, saying, “Stay salty, my friends.” And he doesn’t mean “holy!”