Taste and See: Salt and Fire


Jesus said to his disciples, ‘You are the salt of the earth. But if salt becomes tasteless, what can make it salty again? It is good for nothing, and can only be thrown out to be trampled underfoot by men.

‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill-top cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; they put it on the lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine in the sight of men, so that, seeing your good works, they may give the praise to your Father in heaven.’

Matthew 5:13-16

The Gospel at Mass on Sunday, the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, had Jesus telling us that we are the salt of the earth and calling us to be salt of the earth. It perhaps rather reminds of Mrs May’s insistance that Brexit be Brexit!

Or maybe more appropriately of St Augustine’s urging the newly baptised as they prepared to receive their first comunuion: receive the Body of Christ and be the Body of Christ – receive what you are and become what you receive.

But, in the case of the salt of the earth, what exactly are we invited to be? The Jerusalem Bible translation speaks of the salt retaining its ‘taste’.

This may resonate with one of the more familiar uses of salt today, but it is not what the Greek says, and does not direct us to what Jesus surely meant.

The Greek word is ‘moranthe‘ – meaning ‘foolish’, or in this case ‘pointless’. The point of reference is to the practice of using a block of salt not as a condiment to flavour food, but as a catalyst to help start and sustain the fire in the oven.

Over time the catalytic power of the salt would diminish, and then it would be removed and discarded, fit for nothing other than to be trampled under foot…

The sequence of parables in this passage from fire to light makes much more sense when we understand the reference of the salt to fire rather than savour.

  • So… what fires you up, and how do you share that passion?

Detail from Zoroastrian tombstone. Brookwood Cemetery. (c) 2005, Allen Morris.


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