"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."
In rapid succession Saint Mark gives us three proverbs about salt. Like any proverb, each one is useful in certain times and places, just as any given tool is created to serve a particular function. These salty proverbs contain three different notions, each is useful in its own way.
The first -- Everyone will be salted with fire. -- begins with the metaphor of fire from the teaching on Gehenna (Hell) of the previous verses 48-49. Just as an open wound burns ferociously in contact with salt or salt water, so is everyone doomed to suffer periodically. There are no exemptions and the best doctors in the universe cannot prevent its happening. We learned that as children; and we should have learned to expect it, unless a over-indulgent parent told us otherwise.
When I banged my head on a table or slammed my face to the floor Dad, a Veteran Marine of World War II, would say, "Get up and try again." So much for sympathy.
Confronted with a plague of opioid addiction we realize many of us have been sold a pig in a poke by Big Pharm. But they promised what we wanted and we bought the promise, a life without pain.
Recently I began taking acetaminophen extra strength to cope with the pain of sciatica. Two pills and I slept like a log -- until three in the morning when a freight train of agony roared through from my hip through my right leg. After several nights of that I decided to end it all and I quit taking the pills. It was easier to sleep with some discomfort than to bear what fell on me in the middle of the night. Since then a series of sessions with the chiropractor has eased the crisis to a chronic misery. Salt is good.
...but if salt becomes insipid.
Many generations of preachers have told us that merchants in Jerusalem sold porous bags of salty sand from the Dead Sea, used for flavoring. I suppose it's true. When the salt had been washed out the bag might be recycled but the sand was good for nothing. When our relationships become insipid, routine, vacuous; when our "Good Morning!" and "How's-it-going?" lose all interest we need to stop, consider, ponder and remember how dear and necessary these companions are to us. When the preacher can think of nothing more to say than what he said last week, last year and forty years ago, he should consider a retreat, sabbatical or retirement. When we start to look for excitement in all the wrong places, when we no longer laugh at the sitcoms but only sit in open-mouthed stupidity, it's time to reconnect with the One who hung upon the cross for our salvation.
Finally, "Keep salt in yourselves and you will have peace with one another." There has to be some sharpness in our conversations, some pleasant, unpleasant or necessary reminders that, "Hey, I'm still here. You're dealing with a real person here, and not just a child, parent or spouse. I still have feelings and I can still remember disappointments. I'm not the same person you met forty years ago." Periodically we have to remember we live with strangers and refresh these associations with new conversations, decisions, stories and atonement.
Even our prayer routines need an overhaul periodically, lest they become insipid.
Life is too beautiful to be lost in familiar routines. We need some pain, some rebuke and some refreshment to keep salt within ourselves.
Thank you, Lord, on this 43rd anniversary of my ordination.