Thursday, 17 December 2015

Heading for the garbage-pile?

Jesus said, You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.  Matthew 5:13
For some years now I have been careful about the amount of salt I eat - after all, the medical people tell us that too much salt can cause serious disease, even things like strokes. But we all need some salt, both for health and for the sheer enjoyment of food.

In the ancient world salt was especially important, not something to be taken for granted. Roman soldiers received a certain amount of their income, their salary, in the form of salt, or in money to buy salt with. (Have you ever wondered where the word "salary" comes from? - the Latin word for salt is "sal".)

Well, Jesus tells his followers that we are "the salt of the earth". That means that we impart to this often dreary, grey, hard world flavour, zest and taste. And like salt before the days of refrigeration, we also help to stop the rot in society by living Christlike lives.

So it's especially sad when Christian people "lose their saltiness", as Jesus puts it here. That can mean a lot of things, with all sorts of application. 

But in essence Jesus is talking about times when we act just like everybody else, following the habits and practices of the world around us. Not that we are called to be different just for the sake of being different, but our lives should demonstrate that in matters both large and small there is a better way, a heavenly way.

Some years ago there was a top cricketer who was known as a Christian. In one innings he touched the ball to the wicket-keeper - which means (in case cricket isn’t your thing) that he was out, "caught behind". But he stayed where he was, not actually saying anything but, in effect, lying to the umpire: "I didn't touch the ball". One of the opposing players looked at him and said, "I thought you were supposed to be a Christian." A case of the salt losing its saltiness?

A prominent politician found himself in court a few years ago and ended up in prison for fiddling his expenses. He too was known as a Christian. Another case of the salt losing its saltiness?

A well-known church leader is found guilty of sexually abusing children... Sadly, I could go on.

Of course it's easy to point the finger at other people, especially the sort of people who are prominent enough to get into the papers. But, as has often been pointed out, every time you point a finger at someone else you are also pointing three at yourself (try it! - it's a fact).

And this raises the challenging question, "How 'salty' is my life?"

Jesus says that tasteless salt is fit only to be be "thrown out and trampled underfoot". The Message version of the Bible puts it in pretty down-to-earth language: "Let me tell you why you're here. You're here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavours of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You've lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage." Mmm!

What Jesus doesn’t mention here is two bits of good news. 

First, if we realise how far we have fallen, and how tainted we have become, and if we are truly sorry, and are determined to change, then our saltiness can in fact be restored. But we do need to mean business - and we need to accept that change can be painful. Are we prepared for that? 

But let’s be clear, none of us needs to “end up in the garbage”!

Second, the process does of course work the other way round too. How often have you heard someone talk in this sort of way about how they became a Christian: “Well, there was this man in my office, and I didn’t really know what it was about him, but somehow he made a real impression on me. I suppose I found myself wanting whatever it was he had...” 

And what was it he had? Well, what else but the “salt and light factor” Jesus is talking about here?
Lord, you don't ask us to be different just for the sake of being different, but to show the world that there is a better, more satisfying, and more fulfilling way of being human than people realise. Please show me by your Holy Spirit if there is any area of my life where I have lost my saltiness. Amen.

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