Matthew 5:13-20

It seems like every time I go in for my semi-annual physical, my doctor goes over my lab results and says, “Your sodium is a little high. You need to cut back on your salt intake.” Then I usually get a gentle lecture about not salting my meat, and reading labels to find reduced salt foods, or finding a slat substitute. I don’t bother to tell her that I never see labels because I eat out almost all the time.

But I’ve always found this kind of confusing. When I was a young teenager, growing up in Norfolk, I lived with my sister and brother-in-law. He was a resident at Norfolk General Hospital, now Sentara General, and my sister worked the Emergency Room intake desk in the basement of the old hospital, which is where the Emergency Room was. I was attending Blair Jr. High, and when I got out of school, I walked down to Norfolk General. I loved it. It was a small hospital, and I knew almost everyone. I could hang out in the Emergency Room, or the Doctors’ Lounge, or anywhere I wanted. When an ambulance came in, I was usually standing there to see what was going on. Sometimes I got to operate the old manual elevators. thought that was just great.

When dinner time came around, “the family” gathered in the Dining Hall, that was also in the basement. Now, this was in the early 50s, and Norfolk General was not air-conditioned. Patients could rent a window unit from the “Air Conditioning Lady”, and they would roll it in on a cart and stick it in the window. But aside from the Operating Room, there was no a/c in the rest of the building. That’s why the Emergency Room, and the Dining Hall, and things like that were in the basement where it was supposed to be cooler.

But the thing I find interesting is that as we entered the Dining Room, and other places throughout the hospital, there were “salt tablet dispensers” mounted, much like hand sanitizer dispensers today. And as we went by them, we’d push a little flipper, and out would come a salt tablet that we’d swallow. I was always being asked, “Did you get your salt tablet?” One day I asked why. I was told that it was hot in the hospital, and everyone perspired a lot, and the salt tablets helped us retain fluid so we wouldn’t shrivel up and die. Well, I didn’t want to shrivel up, and I didn’t want to die, so I ate my salt tablets. God knows what my Primary Care Physician would think of that today, but it was a normal part of life back then.

Well, I picked salt as my topic today because I’ve always found it interesting. As far back in history as we know, getting salt to the people has been a major ordeal. Still, in Northern Africa, there are Salt Camel Trains plying across the Sahara Desert, carrying slabs or bags of salt to the west for market. There’s a modern picture on the front of your bulletin of a camel salt train heading across a salt field with slabs and sacks of salt. Timbuktu to Marrakesh was the main route. It was a 71 day trip, and once consisted of thousands of camels. But salt was more valuable than gold. One bought salt with gold.

The silk road out of China was also a main route for trading salt. It went from the salt fields of south eastern China, up and across China, across what is now Turkey, across to Istanbul, over the Alps, and on to Europe. And it was walked, with the camels. God knows how long it took. I also brought along a chunk of salt that I picked up at the Dead Sea. I’m sure they would never let me pack it today, but when I was there, you could just pick it up. And no – I have not tasted it. Yuck!

Despite the concerns of my beloved doctor, life is dependent on salt. We can’t live without it – blood pressure or not. Even livestock in a field are given blocks of salt to lick. They need it to live.

So, Matthew has Jesus saying: “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot.” Now, I have to admit that I know nothing about salt losing its taste and losing its saltiness. Jesus’ salt must have been different from my little bottle of sea salt that I shake onto my fried eggs. I have to plead ignorant on that.

But when Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth”, he’s saying a lot. This is one of his teaching passages. It’s a collection of sayings and lessons that he’s using to teach. And a bunch of them have been put together here.

But he begins with the idea of salt. Life depends on it. He’s telling his disciples that life depends on them. They will sustain life by practicing his teachings, just like salt sustains our bodies. And I think they would have understood that. It doesn’t speak to us with the same power. We don’t have to go search out a camel train to stock up on salt. And at least in my house, a little box of salt lasts for years.

But it’s the idea that if we are followers of Jesus, if we accept his teachings, if we try to live our lives with compassion for each other, with caring for each other, without prejudice and hate, and all those other things he taught, we will contribute to sustaining at least the decency of life. And folks, we really do need that today.

We really do.


February 9, 2020

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