You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
I have to be completely honest here and say, I have never really understood this part. I mean, I think I have an understanding of the point Jesus is making (on one level) but it seems like a poor analogy, and Jesus is not known for His poor analogies! I get stuck on the salt losing its taste. How can salt lose its taste? The statement contradicts itself, surely? If it no longer tastes like salt, then it no longer is salt. I am of course thinking from a Chemistry perspective. It is the ions that make the salt taste salty, and sodium chloride, salt, is chemically very stable, resistant to change. It requires the use of electricity in electrolysis to convert the sodium and chloride ions back into elements and so, destroy the saltiness, or the salt. I do not really think this is what Jesus was getting at!
So, I started to ponder salt. Quite an ordinary substance, and useful. Firstly, when you put it in boiling water for cooking, it raises the boiling temperature of the water (boiling point elevation) and so will help to cook the food more quickly. The sodium ions also insert themselves in between chains of pectin in vegetables – pectin is partly what gives raw vegetables their hardness – and so helps to soften them in the boiling cooking water. It also enhances the taste of food – it is not so much its own salty taste, but the augmented taste of the food we are after when we season it with salt. And of course, it is used as a preservative, to stop food from going off too quickly. From here, I could apply the analogy to the disciples to whom Jesus was speaking: their role, (and our role) to soften the hardness of heart in those we meet, to encourage that process by interjecting where the love of God is needed; to help to draw out God in each person we meet, to enhance their own goodness by our interaction with them; and to be a preservative, to act to slow down the movement away from God, to act against the desolation that seeks to spoil those gifts given so generously by God.
It is said that the graces received in the Exercises are always there, they are never lost, and I would testify to that from my first hand experience. I am still stuck…how can salt lose its taste? So, I consulted Wikipedia:
The most common interpretation of this verse is a reference to salt as a preservative, and to thus see the duty of the disciples as preserving the purity of the world.
…salt was a minor but essential ingredient in fertilizer,…the disciples are thus to help the world grow and prosper…indicating that the disciples are to bring new life to the world
…a common Jewish expression at the time was to call the Laws the “salt and the light” of the world, which may mean this section is an introduction to the discussion of Mosaic law that will soon commence.
In the Rabbinic literature of the period salt was a metaphor for wisdom.
Salt also played role in ritual purity and all sacrifices had to contain salt.
…the many different uses of salt show its importance in the life of the period, and it is this importance of the disciples that is being referenced.
Ancient peoples sometimes put salt on the wicks of lamps to increase their brightness.
I learned a lot here, all good stuff, although I am not clear how putting salt on the wicks of lamps can increase their brightness. I feel a home experiment coming on. I also felt vindicated at the beginning of the section on Losing Saltiness:
The issue of salt losing its flavour is somewhat problematic. Salt itself, sodium chloride (NaCl), is extremely stable and cannot lose its flavour.
It goes on to make the point that Jesus was not teaching Chemistry, and considers:
…the impossibility of what is described as deliberate, it is counter to nature that salt lose its flavour, just as it is counter to God’s will that the disciples lose faith.
There it is! Not only does Jesus know Chemistry: you must know already that I love Chemistry, He uses it to say:
You will always be mine. Nothing can ever take you away from me.
How cool is that? I am just going to pause for a moment and savour the flavour of this realisation.
It is the same promise He made to the young woman in His workshop that I described in my post last week.
Wikipedia then goes on to talk about impurities, and as I suggested at the beginning, these impurities are not salt, and therefore do not taste like salt. Perhaps it would be to extend the analogy to describe spiritual desolation, and I would point out that dissolution, filtration and recrystallisation will extract and purify salt which has been so “corrupted”. The eleven year olds in my science class know how to do that. So too then, might the impurities in our own hearts be cleansed with water, separated from that which would draw us away from God, and purified by prayer and time spent with Him until we are indeed salt of the earth in the way that Jesus intends us to be. We are in essence, not lost to Him and always retrievable by Him.
I wrote about light in a previous post and I said:
…the warmth of the light draws us gently out of the darkness, it invites us not to remain there.
I was at that time referring to our response to God’s light, but here, it also applies when considering how the followers of Jesus might be attractive to others. In the meditation of the two standards Ignatius says:
Consider the address which Christ our Lord makes to all His servants and friends whom He sends on this enterprise, recommending to them to seek to help all, first by attracting them to the highest spiritual poverty,The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius trans. Louis J. Puhl S.J.
And in the Contemplation to Attain the Love of God, which means to become able to love like God loves, not to win God’s love as it might be misunderstood, Ignatius makes two points:
The first is that love ought to manifest itself in deeds rather than in words.
The second is that love consists in a mutual sharing of goods, for example, the lover gives and shares with the beloved what he possesses, or something of that which he has or is able to give; and vice versa, the beloved shares with the lover. Hence, if one has knowledge, he shares it with the one who does not possess it; and so also if one has honors, or riches. Thus, one always gives to the other.The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius trans. Louis J. Puhl S.J.
In other words, the relationship is reciprocal.
This is to consider how God works and labors for me in all creatures upon the face of the earth, that is, He conducts Himself as one who labors. Thus, in the heavens, the elements, the plants, the fruits, the cattle, etc., He gives being, conserves them, confers life and sensation, etc.The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius trans. Louis J. Puhl S.J.
If God shines His light on the world as described previously, it is for us to do likewise, to attract and draw others to the source that is light itself. Salt and light. It is not enough to keep it all to ourselves.