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Pass the salt, please

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Seeking, Affirming, Living the Truth

 

British preacher Dr. James Stewart once said: The greatest threat to Christianity is not communism, not atheism, not materialism, not humanism. The greatest threat to Christianity is Christians trying to sneak into heaven incognito without ever sharing their faith, without ever living out the Christian life, without ever becoming involved in the most significant work that God is doing on planet earth.

That is exactly the problem Jesus was trying to remedy. Think about the crowd to whom Jesus was speaking.  It was not an international gathering;it was not an assembly of students and teachers.

It was a crowd on a hillside, in a tiny spot of land called Palestine. He was preaching to a group of people living common ordinary lives.  Most likely, some were fisherfolks, some were farmers, and some were merchants. They were under occupation; they could not make their laws; they could not plan their future; they could not determine their own destinies; yet, Jesus said to them, “You are the salt of the earth…”

What does this mean? As you know, salt is chemically composed of sodium and chloride. If you drink hydrochloric acid, you will die in unbelievable agony very quickly. But when you add sodium to hydrochloride, you have salt — one of the most common useful substances on planet earth.

During the time of Jesus, salt was unbelievably valuable.  What we take for granted today was like pure gold to them.

You see, salt is a preservative, and 2,000 years ago, people did not have refrigeration. Salt was so valuable that it was often traded ounce-for-ounce with gold. Roman soldiers were paid in salt.

The word ‘salary’ is derived from the word salt. If a Roman soldier did not do his job, he would not get all his salt.  That is where we get the phrase, “He is not worth his salt,” if someone does not do a good day’s work.

Moreover, salt gives taste to what we eat.

In a little more than a month from now, our college seniors will be graduating.  We will then be adding Silliman graduates to the workforce around the world. One can find Silliman alumni almost anywhere one goes. As our graduates “roam the world o’er near and far” we hope to have graduates who can be the Salt wherever they go.

I had a fellow pastor in Ohio who went through surgery in Texas. She told me her nurse was a graduate of Silliman University. (And I happen to know that nurse.) The pastor told me this nurse was the best she had ever met. There goes a pinch of salt in Texas from Silliman University.

I heard about a man who walked into a little grocery store, and asked, “Do you sell salt?”

The grocer replied, “Do we sell salt?! Just look!”And went on to show the customer an entire wall of shelves stocked with nothing but salt—Morton salt, iodized salt, kosher salt, sea salt, rock salt, garlic salt, seasoning salt, Epsom salts—every kind of salt imaginable. 

The customer was amazed.

“You think that’s something; come over here,” and led the customer to a back room filled with shelves and bins and cartons and barrels and boxes of mroe salt. 

The customer said, “This is unreal!” 

The grocer said, “You hadn’t seen anything yet,” and led the man down some steps into a huge basement, five times as large as the previous room. It was filled wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling with every imaginable form, size, and shape of salt you could think of.

The man looked at the grocery, and said, “You really do sell salt!” 

The store owner said, “No, we do not sell salt — which is the problem! But that salt salesperson that comes by every week, boy, does he sell salt!”

Here’s the point: Salt that stays on the shelf does not do anyone any good.  It must get out to make a difference.

But then he asked, “What good is salt if it has lost its flavor?”

What Jesus is saying is: “What good is it to be a follower of Mine if there is nothing distinctive about your life? If by following Me, you make no real contribution to life, what is the use of calling yourself My follower?”

If the values we learn at Silliman do not make a difference in the places we go, what good are they? What good is our professed faith in Jesus if we remain silent when the crowd clamors for something that is diametrically opposed to everything that Jesus stands for?

Of course, the ethics of Jesus is hard to even comprehend.  Nobody ever said it would be easy. And none of us truly live it fully. The question is: Are we even trying?

Several years ago, there was a “Peanuts” cartoon wherein Schroeder,the piano-loving intellectual, was interrupted (as he often is) by Lucy, his infatuated admirer. Lucy asks: “Schroeder, do you know what love is?” He abruptly stopped playing the piano, stood up, and said precisely, “Love: (noun) to be fond of, a strong affection for, or an attachment or devotion to a person or persons.” Then he sat back down, and resumed playing the piano.  Lucy just sat there stunned, and then murmured sarcastically, “On paper, Schroeder is great.”

Many times, we as graduates of Silliman University are only good on paper.

About 1,390 will be graduating this school year, not counting those from the Graduate School. In other words, we have this many who can possibly be Salt to the communities and workplaces where they will be going.  They can make a difference.

This takes us to the story of Daniel and his companion as related to us in our Old Testament passage. Daniel, together with a cross section of prominent citizens, were exiled in 605 BC during the fourth year of King Jehoiakim.  Daniel with some young Jewish boys was placed in the royal academy, who were instructed about the Babylonian culture, Aramaic (the official language of the Babylonian Empire), astrology, and mathematics.  All students at the royal academy were required to have no physical handicap, to be attractive, to show an aptitude for learning, and to be well-informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace (1:4).The students were supplied with a daily quota of food and wine (1:5). The curriculum lasted some three years, during which time the young men were to develop into competent statesmen to be used for the advancement of the Babylonian kingdom.

The issue of food and drink was highly significant to Daniel and his friends.  The Lord had designated certain foods as unclean (Lev. 7:22–27; 11:1–47).

Moreover, the royal court was associated with pagan temples, as food and drink were symbolically dedicated to the gods. Daniel humbly asks for permission not to eat the royal diet.  He requested a test period, during which the power of God’s presence could be made evident in the physical well-being of Daniel and his friends. The youths were to eat only vegetables and drink only water for 10 days. After 10 days, they looked “healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food” (1:15).  The youths distinguish themselves not only by their food, but also by their wisdom (1:17). Daniel became prominent among his friends, as he can interpret dreams (1:17).

The courage and faith of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace, and the steadfast faithfulness of Daniel in the lions’ den still stand as models for us today. All these men refused to waver in their commitment to God.  They remained totally obedient to God, despite the unpleasant and seemingly- overpowering circumstances that engulfed them.

These men did not compromise their faith, even at the risk of losing their lives.  They challenge us to do likewise.

Daniel reminds us that God is sovereign, and that his kingdom will ultimately triumph over all hostile world powers. In the story of the life of Daniel and his friends, we see them Seeking, Affirming, and Living the Truth.

We are to live our lives not only to bring glory to God but also to cause other people to want to glorify God.

When I was growing up, we made ice cream with a hand-cranked ice cream maker. Aside from putting ice around the container of ingredients, we also put salt.  I later learned that salt is used to lower the freezing temperature of water.  When salt is poured on ice, it creates a mix that has a temperature nearing zero degrees Fahrenheit.  Although the mixture is not solid like ice, it is colder, and can easily freeze the ice-cream mixture.  The addition of salt to the process has a powerful effect on the outcome.

In the same way, we are to be salt in the world, having a powerful effect and making a difference.

Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth.” Not just salt for your neighborhood but wherever you go. Pass the salt, please.

_________________________________

Author’s email: piajonathan@yahoo.com

 

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