Print Version February 6th, 2005
We used to say salt was a good thing—now we just reckon it raises our blood-pressure. Once packaged foods delighted in their saltiness — now they vie for the label “low Sodium.” Like “no fat” and “caffeine free” what we once sought out for pleasure, we now avoid for long life.
Salt used to be precious—in cooking, healing, preserving—Roman soldiers received part of their pay in salt—their salary. Any of you who are on enforced low-salt diets know just how precious salt still is. Things need taste. We need to be saved from blandness. This, says the gospel, is our communal vocation—to give the world some flavour. But will this low-sodium world thank us for it? I doubt it. But, in fact, our ambivalent feelings about salt offer a good image of our ambiguous relationship to the nation we are part of. We—church—as we lend a little flavor, should also be sending the blood-pressure of the world soaring. The people of Britain shouldn’t know what to do with us or without us.
Jesus’ message is that, like it or not, we carry the flavour of the reign of God. You cannot take away the taste of salt. Like it or not, the world tastes us, and through us tastes God. We cannot hide the way we taste. So how are we doing? How annoying are we? How salty?
Isaiah is at his most pungent speaking to his people today. ‘Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the homeless, clothe the destitute, do away with economic slavery, put an end to violence and oppression’. He doesn’t ask much: he asks everything. And we need to be asking too. Does the country see us as hounding them over a justice we hold ourselves to first or are we perceived as a bunch of sex-obsessed hypocrites with nothing to say to a world that has moved beyond us?
If Isaiah is right—if Jesus is right!—we shouldn’t worry about being a shrinking minority of faith. We are meant to be the seasoning not the main course. We won’t be held accountable for the quality of our worship or for how traditional or progressive we are. The measure both Isaiah and Jesus use is a very worldly one: the measure of justice.
And it’s not you or I who is being put to the test but God. If we, who count ourselves as salt, as light, as leaven, if we are tasteless, dim, and flat all it means for us is a quieter, duller life—God is the one weighed in the balance and found boring. So for God’s sake let us be salty.