Voce mea ad Dominum

Random thoughts from an amateur theologist.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Worth his salt

"Everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is a good thing, but if salt has become insipid, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another." - Mark 9:49-50

Salt. We take it for granted, but at one time, it was as valuable as gold is to us. Its importance as a preservative led to the foundation of civilization since it allowed for food to be stored for long journeys. Roman soldiers were paid with salt (in part), something called salarium, hence the English term salary. Its worth would have been well known to the people of first century Palestine.

Jesus has just finished his teaching to the apostles which would have a person who just picks up the bible and reads it wondering if heaven is filled with maimed souls. "Pluck out your eye, cut off your hand, cut off your foot!" Jesus says, "if it causes you to sin. It is better to enter heaven with one eye or one hand or one foot than to end up in Gehenna with an intact body." Christians realize that Jesus is telling us to avoid sin at all cost.

But then he brings up salt. Besides being a preservative, salt is a seasoning and a purifying agent. So when Jesus says we will be salted with fire, he is saying we will be seasoned and purified through our sacrifices and sufferings, a purifying or seasoning fire much like the fire which refines gold or silver. By "cutting off our hand" to avoid sin (an allusion to suffering), we become purified and pleasing sacrifices to God. If we remain pure, we will be at peace with God and one another.

Today we celebrate the memorial of St. Polycarp of Smyrna. He was taught by St. John the Evangelist and was the bishop of the Church in Smyrna (yes the same one mentioned in the Book of Revelation). He was also a friend of St. Ignatius of Antioch. At the age of 87 he was martyred for his faith in Christ by being stabbed, and his corpse was burned at the stake. It is written that on the pyre "surrounded by the fire, his body was like bread that is baked, or gold and silver white-hot in a furnace, not like flesh that has been burnt", a literal image of what Christ calls being "salted by fire."

May the intercession of St. Polycarp give us the courage to share with him the cup of suffering and help us to seek Christ with all our hearts.


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