"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, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. Matthew 5:13
I’ve always loved this; always wanted to be salty – anything than be trampled by men, which sounds uncomfortable.
Mark makes the same point, adds an intriguing question, and ends with a paradox. "Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other."
Well, I don’t know how you can make salt salty again – or indeed how it lost saltiness in the first place, but I worry about the last sentence. ‘Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other’.
The thing is one man’s salt is another man’s poison. Foodies and gourmets clash over salt: rock salt or sea salt, and doctors warn about having too much. My children grab it from me with warning glares. Salt heightens blood pressure, contributes to Alzheimer’s and strokes. Perhaps I should quote: ‘Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other,’ when next they hide it from me, but I know it won’t work, and besides it’s not really the point.
Oliver Cromwell was a salty soul. He had an abundance of salt. You knew where you were with Oliver Cromwell and the other salty souls that made up Puritan England. We were a fun-free zone, merriment flattened in a salty dead sea. That’s the trouble. Salt can be totalitarian. Too much of it.
And what if your salt is different from your neighbours? Bin Laden had salt, Donald Rumsfeld had salt, Maggie Thatcher had a handbag full of it. Then there were the Bolsheviks, the Conquistadors, men of opinion and truth, men not ashamed to shine their light or rub their salt in your face.
But, I hear you say, Christ wasn’t talking about such people when he talked about salt. Well what people, what salt was he talking about?
Good people, obviously, kind people. The problem isn’t with the adjective but with the noun. People.
Four centuries ago, Oliver Cromwell had much the same idea. Abolishing monarchy was one thing, find a replacement another. Cromwell left it to God. Salty man.
He announced that in forming a new Parliament he would be guided by God’s providence: "as we have been led by necessity and Providence to act as we have done, even beyond and above our own thoughts and desires, so we shall... put ourselves wholly upon the Lord for a blessing".
The result was the ‘Parliament of Saints’ – a hundred and forty good souls drawn up from the most religious men in the country. One of its leading lights, Thomas Harrison, argued that their duty was to accelerate the coming of the kingdom of Christ by putting power into the hands of godly men. Cromwell was so enthused with this that he opened the new parliament with a speech two hours long.
His joy was short lived.
Salt is contentious.
Within months he was complaining that the members "being of different judgements… most seeking to propagate their own, that spirit of kindness … is hardly accepted of any.”
I like people of strong opinions – left or the right, atheist or Christian, but, like salt, in moderate amounts and a beer in between.
Now if the Lord had said ‘pepper’ that would be an entirely different story ‘You are the pepper of the earth…ginger… capsicum…chilli.’
But don’t get me on to: Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house.’ Hadn’t they heard of dimmer switches…light pollution…Las Vegas?