January 22, 2015
Dear brothers and sisters,
The good news today is from Mark 42-50.
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe [in me] to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life crippled than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna. And if your eye causes you to sin pluck it out. Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. Everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if salt becomes insipid, with what will you restore its flavor? Keep salt in yourselves and you will have peace with one another.”
If I were to take these words of Jesus literally, there would be much of me left! This is a very confusing passage for me. Drawing from Moloney in The Gospel of Mark helps, “Jesus’ words mean what they say. They are not about the maiming, but the unsurpassable blessing of life! His words ring true: ‘God is even more important than the most important parts of our body.”
Moloney points out, “This passage is a collection of originally independent sayings from pre-Markan tradition, gathered on the basis of two principles. The first of these principles is the problem of sin within the community. People who consider themselves ‘great’ may not concern themselves overly with ‘the little ones,’ yet such a person would be better eliminated from the community….From the ‘causing to sin’, the author moves to consider other parts of the body…which might lead to sin.”
The New Jerome Biblical Commentary states that the salt sayings have three different references. “Everyone will be salted with fire” is an image of “purification during the period of suffering before the final coming of God’s kingdom.” “If salt becomes insipid” refers to salt as seasoning and “probably refers to the disciples’ function as ‘salt of the earth.’” “Keep salt in yourselves” seems to allude “to hospitality and friendship among Jesus’ followers.” Assuming that Jesus’ words are fairly accurately recorded, it seems likely to me that he spoke in more detail so his listeners could understand his message more clearly.
Drawing from Moloney who quotes scholar Morna Hooker again makes it more clear to me, “Like fire, salt is an agent of purification. But unlike fire, salt is a source of life; it can be used to preserve food from putrefaction. However mixed the metaphor, the idea that men can be salted with fire sums up exactly the message of verses 43, 45 and 47: the purification process may destroy, but it can also preserve.” Moloney writes, “Having salt in themselves, believers are penetrated by belief in God and openness to God’s ways.” Being salted in that way assures that we will have peace with one another.
That reminds me of why I love St. John the Evangelist parish so much. Like Charlie Dominguez said before asking us to greet one another at Mass on Sunday, when he stands looking out upon us he sees the light of God shining from us. And he told us that he loves us. That’s the salt that Jesus is talking about and urges us to keep it in ourselves. That is the peace of Christ that we find when we accept and love and forgive one another. That’s not so easy. I am so quick to judge others, to see how they are different from me, to see myself as better than others. That’s what Jesus is warning against because it keeps me from being at peace with others. I can’t be at peace with myself if I am not also at peace with others. I have to keep salt in myself; I have to be a source of life and love. That’s only possible if I am penetrated by Jesus’ spirt and follow his ways. That’s what it always comes back to. Jesus has to give me the same message over and over in many different ways so that maybe it will sink it. Reading the gospels is like a steady drip and his message does slowly sink in deeper and deeper. At least I think it does. I want to be salt. I want to be flavorful, not insipid.