Tuesday, April 10, 2012

120410 - Mark 09 - Kosher Salt

Tuesday SOAP: We are the salt of the earth; doesn't that sound nice? But do you know what was salted? Sacrifices offered with fire! I can even trick myself into looking at presenting my body a living sacrifice in too abstract a sense: it means self-denial, but also trouble, opposition, persecution, purifying fire. This must be faced without complaint if we really want to claim to be salt of the earth.

S: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ For everyone will be salted with fire [and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt]. Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” (Mark 9:42-50)

O: Here's an astoundingly grave teaching of Jesus I've probably not completely understood. I think I understand well enough the level of repentance demanded. We must abandon absolutely anything that would keep us back from trusting Christ, even to our vital members. But the phrase, "everyone will be salted with fire [and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt, which is not in every manuscript]" is a confusing and troubling statement. It actually made me wonder if it had been used as a supporting verse for the doctrine of Purgatory. I did some checking, and, sure enough, it is. It's a curious passage to me, and it seems as if it's wrapped in some symbolism, although I believe the descriptions of unquenchable fire are quite literal. Jesus builds upon the statement by saying, "Have salt in yourselves," so it seems the following things should be true:

  1. Believers, specifically the disciples, are the things spoken about as being salty. (c.f., Matt. 5:13)
  2. Salt is a good thing, but may be lost in some way.
  3. Fire and salt seem to be used interchangably: "salted by fire."
  4. The bracketed portion could be a scribal gloss for explanation, or it could be Christ's own quote from the Old Testament (I lean toward the latter).

"Salted with fire" sounds like a mixed metaphor, but then again if it's correct to say that this is a reference to the Law's demand that sacrifices be "seasoned with salt," (Lev. 2:13, Ezra 6:9, Ezekiel 43:24), the whole thing may be a symbolic picture of the believer as a sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1), in which case, it would be important to determine what it means.

Here are some thoughts, which may move a bit toward application:

  • Salt is a preservative that can irritate wounds but also is antiseptic. (See Ezek. 16:4) Salt has a very pleasant flavor, (Job 6:6), so salting meat has been an important method of preserving it without refrigeration for millennia. Our bodies consist of about 4% salt. Too much of it in the body is fatal, but so is too little. Salt is used for roads: it kills vegetation and melts ice. Salt was used in conquest, to make a place barren, (Judges 9:45), but in small amounts it is said to improve fertility.
  • Fire is used for heating and cooking, for purifying metals of dross, for cauterizing wounds and medical sterilization. It's an important source of energy, but it also spells excruciating pain and virtually complete destruction. It's very difficult to control, and for these reasons it is rightly feared.
  • If the "sacrificial" view of this verse is correct, the idea of salting with fire is not the same mixed metaphor, but two aspects of making the offering: the fire primarily represented God's wrath, and the sacrifice itself represented the worshiper. The salt represented the incorruptibility or permanence of the covenant (Leviticus 2:13). Therefore, it seems as if when the picture is moved over slightly and the sacrifice now becomes the worshiper and the salt and fire become symbolic instead of literal, they might be taken to represent purification through tribulation.

A: How might this all apply?

I don't see any grounds for purgatory here. The simplistic image is that the sacrifice is the food of God, (see Lev. 21:17), and the fire cooks it, the salt seasons it, and God is pleased with the aroma. Christ also was a sacrifice with a pleasing aroma (Ephesians 5:2), and so the Christian is also an aroma reminiscent of Christ. Jesus was "perfected" by suffering (Heb. 2:10), and so are we (1 Pet. 5:10) in fellowship with Him. (Philippians 3:10)

Would it be possible for a follower of Jesus to lose that which makes them pleasant to the taste, and so become unsavory (Job 6:6)? (Something to spew out of the mouth? Rev. 3:16)

It has been said that what is realy inside is what comes out when we're jostled. If we murmur and complain under pressure, (Philippians 2:14-16), demanding our rights instead of submitting to God's agenda (Philippians 2:5-11) and doing all things heartily as to the Lord (Colossians 3:23), in what way do we differ from those Christ spews out of His mouth, or the sensual described in Jude 14-19? It's well to remember that the disciples listening to all this teaching form the FUTURE Church (Matt. 16:18) and, while they are followers of Christ, they are not yet, in the true sense, born-again Christians. (John 3:3, 8, 7:39) That's why there is a warning about chopping off hands and feet or plucking out eyes rather than allowing our inability to control them to send us to hell. (Where one of the 12 went - John 17:12) Similarly, here we have not just the honorific proclamation that we are the salt of the earth (Matt. 5:13) but the nagging question of whether someone who has lost that saltiness could be made salty again. What a warning, to fear the LORD (Matthew 10:28) enough to hold selfishness at bay. The fire, then, becomes a purifying agent, rather than a destructive one.

P: Father, your word says for me to purify myself even as you are pure, if I have this hope in myself. Make me a true son of my Father, in Christ's image, in Jesus' name.


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