“Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” Mark 9:50 ESV.
I’ve been concerned about lying and about how it ruins public discourse in the western world that yearns toward secularism and progressivism today.
It used to be that the majority of public figures recognized their responsibility, as public figures, to communicate truthfully, in order to honor both the society of which they were representatives and leaders, and their own relationship with God—or at least with the fundamental rules that held society together, if they were skeptics.
Ralph Keyes, a writer of social commentary, published a book in 2004 titled The Post-Truth Era: Dishonesty and Deception in Contemporary Life. Deplorably, according to Keyes’ title, our time of dishonesty is to be characterized as an era.
Note: we don’t breeze past times labeled an eras very quickly.
Think of the Mesozoic Era. It lasted 180 million years (if you are a fan of non-biblical history).
If you are not a fan of non-biblical history, think of The Roosevelt Era, which lasted during FDR’s twelve-year presidency, but understand that the cultural impact of that era has extended its progressive energy even into our present, eighty-four years after 1933, when FDR’s presidency began.
I hope all of us reading this post—like me—would like to get past this ruinous Post-Truth Era.
Currently, many of our politicians, public intellectuals, media savants, academics, “experts,” and other talking heads practice cagy partial truth, and when challenged about some lie, they say they merely “misspoke.”
What can we do to reverse the impact on our culture of the lying that has ruined and continues to ruin us?
Well, character matters.
Which leads me to salt.
Here are words that pertain to salt. These words appear in the Bible in paragraphs that place them in metaphorical relationship to salt.
The word salt is used by Jesus as a qualifier noun when speaking to the fishermen and farmers He taught during the Sermon on the Mount – “You are the salt of the earth” Matt 5:13 ESV.
By Jesus’ use of the word salt, we today get a sense about how He characterized his listeners. He is saying his listeners are plain, straight-forward people, truth-tellers probably—truth-listeners for sure.
The salt to which Jesus likens them was used in their era for many purposes, importantly for the purification of meat that was to be used as a sacrifice. Therefore, the salt was an element of the sacrifice, and it had sacrificial intensity and rightness.
Salt also was used for antisepsis when applied to wounds, which made it healthy and therefore right. Salt preserved raw food and also it heightened food’s tastiness. Again, salt had rightness.
When the salt was pure, it was not ruinous of anything—it was right—and it was beneficial to everything.
When the salt was impure—had lost its saltiness—it was good for nothing except to be cast out onto the road where nothing was to grow and where the salt was to be trodden upon.
I said character matters. Salt matters.
Salt is powerful. A “covenant of salt” is a covenant that absolutely may not be broken (for example, refer to the surroundings of 2 Chron 13:5 ESV).
Salt, in Latin, is salis. The importance of the Latin word is so great that it has appeared in English in unexpected ways. The Romans salted their greens, from which act we derive our word salad. The Romans sometimes paid their soldiers with salt, so valuable it was, from which act we derive the word salary.
The Jews recommended eating salt at the end of a meal, as a preventative of halitosis.
But then, in the typical Pharisaical manner of the rabbis, laws were added to that beneficial custom about which the rabbis could insist—or could chide when the laws were ignored. Jews must not eat their after-supper salt off their thumbs, for doing so causes the loss of children; nor off their little fingers, for doing so causes poverty; nor off their index finders, for doing so causes murder.
Only Jewish middle fingers and ring fingers would do for the eating of Jewish after–supper salt!
Much of the salt used in biblical times in Israel and Egypt came from the Dead Sea (also known as the Salt Sea). The purest of the salt—the kind that was most righteous—needed to be mined out of the land surrounding the Dead Sea. Easier to get, though, was the deposited salt that peppered the shore line.
Want some salt? Go pick it up along the shore.
This salt, however, was not as pure as the mined salt. The seashore salt was laden with other elements than sodium chloride, because it was the sun-dried distillation of sea water. Consequently, in practice, this dried seawater salt was “salt that had lost its saltiness”—and it was good for nothing much, in terms of righteousness, except to be scattered on the road to inhibit weed growth, for the same reason the Romans salted Carthage after they defeated that city—so it would stay dead.
You could say that salt that had lost its saltiness lied about its promise.
A salty man or woman does not lie. A salty man or woman is righteous. A salty man or woman is pure…and is durable, and loyal, and faithful, and permanent—and any of the other words biblically used as metaphorical with regard to salt.
Mark reports that Jesus said to His disciples, “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
But notice this--
Yes, Jesus was speaking to His disciples, but Jesus is forever, and He is speaking to us ourselves today (Dikkon, this means you).
It’s not just the public liars who have ruined and are ruining our civilization today. Look into ourselves, readers, and pray for personal salt.
One year ago, in October 2016, my wife Channa and I turned off a busy thoroughfare in Roanoke, VA, and, with a real estate broker, drove up a curvy road onto the lower slope of Sugarloaf Mountain. It was a hot day.
It was always a hot day, we had discovered, during our first summer in Roanoke.
Summer? Blazing sun? In October?
This was terrible!
We were house shopping. We had identified three possibilities out of the many houses we had visited during the past weeks. Each of the three had demerits, but we were considering making an offer on one of them anyhow.
Earlier that day our broker had said, “I’ve got one other listing we should look at, okay?”
We turned off the thoroughfare. Driving up, I saw something ahead in the road. It was something I hadn’t seen much in Roanoke.
The road curved, and the entire area where the road curved was…in the shade!
Next to the shaded curve was a For-Sale sign. Could this be the house our broker had in mind? It was!
I walked into the house by about four strides, saw my first view of the split interior, and knew this was the house I wanted. Channa liked it, too, especially because I was so enthusiastic.
But it wasn’t just the interior design I liked.
I loved the huge oak on the house’s eastern side. I loved the two big maples on the house’s northern side. I loved the vast oak in the neighbor’s back yard to the south because that oak shaded half of what was to become our home. On our home’s western side, surrounding our back yard and patio, a half dozen other trees block the fire of the sun.
Our house swims in shade.
I loved the shade!
We bought the house, and here’s what the woman next door said when I went to introduce myself. “You poor guy, you have no idea what trouble you’re in.”
Shade is a blessing in Roanoke.
We are grateful for our trees, which keep our house cooler and reduce our cooling cost all summer long. The trees do that because they are covered with leaves. Come fall—which begins in November—the leaves turn yellow, and…they fall.
Billions of them.
Billions upon billions upon billions of them.
They inundate our yard, roof, gutters, porch, driveway, patio, parking area in back.
Our neighbor was right. The raking job is an enormous task. It is an enormous, on-going task, and it lasts through most of two months.
Fortunately, our son Sam loves raking and bagging. Our grandson Miles loves helping his grandfather and his uncle with the raking and the bagging. Our good-spirited granddaughter Ivria is willing to rake and bag, but what she loves most is throwing big handsful of leaves at her brother and uncle and grandfather when the leaves have been raked into their piles.
In Maine, where we had sixteen acres of forest and meadow, and the house was surrounded by deciduous trees as well as by pines, we had plenty of leaves, too, but, in Maine, I waited until the end of leaf-fall and raked everything onto a big tarp and hand-dragged several loads into the woods and dumped them.
That was rural life. In Roanoke, we are suburban, and we continually bag leaves up, day after day, and we stack the bags on the edge of the road, and the county hauls them away.
There is a God point to this blather about leaves. The God point is metaphorically about the last leaf to fall.
Here in Roanoke we get wind storms. We got a big one four days ago. It was a strong, cool wind (thank the Lord!) roistering through the trees from the northwest, sending that day’s billion leaves before it—like snow. We got a blizzard of leaves.
Have you noticed something about leaves?
They like moving in a gang. They all make up their minds at the same time, and then they do what the others do. When the wind comes along, they all let go and tumble, as though they were the crazy idea of some slap-dash painter, flinging yellow flakes of tinsel down the air.
But—no—not all of them.
Our blizzard died away. I went outside. The day was cooler than before, and the air was still now, with the sun bright and coming slantways from low down in the west. Everywhere that I could see, I saw inches—even a foot—of depth of leaves.
I had intended to start by sweeping the porch, but I stopped.
High in one tree, way up, there was one single yellow leaf all by itself out on the end of a twig. It hung there, very still. It caught my eye because it was brightly lit against the blue of the sky by a shaft of the sun.
I watched it for a time, standing as I was in the quiet yellow of the aftermath of the blizzard. That leaf seemed almost to be making up its own mind. It had hung on tight while the wind had buffeted it, and while all its friends had let go and had flown. It had hung on, waiting, maybe thinking it through.
What was it which that leaf was thinking through?
Perhaps its own allegiance to the Lord.
Everyone else had known what was right—what was manifest—to do. Everyone else had said, “We are a sweeping tide of Christian consciousness joyfully covering the landscape of the Lord.” And they had.
Why, I thought to myself, that last leaf is like I was ten years ago.
Of course, that leaf has no soul—it’s a leaf—I thought.
But, I thought, I am a writer and a chaser after metaphor. I have a soul. I have a soul, and I had hung on tight to my anchoring point during the nine months of my soul’s stormy struggle beyond Judaism toward its rebirth in Christ.
I had hung on, battling that stormy struggle through.
Yes or no? To deny or to accept? To let go and to go? Or not to let go and to go?
And—just as I reached this point in the framing of my thought—up there above me, after the end of the wind storm, that last yellow leaf let go.
As I had, too.
I watched that last yellow leaf flutter peacefully all the way down until it nestled comfortably with its yellow fellows. All of us at one with the Lord.
Of which biblical character are you burning to ask a question? Is there a mystery you’d like that character to clear up for you?
Who’s the character and what’s the question?
One time, my former Maine pastor, Dan, and I were enjoying debate about this matter. I said I would like to find Abraham and ask him, “Why did you say yes to the call of you (the Call of Abraham, as we speak of it nowadays) having never heard one word from Yahweh before and not even knowing who He is?”
Dan and I had a good time debating what Abraham might say—I was hoping for something like “I was powerless to resist”—and then I asked Dan, “What about Jesus?”
“Oh, well,” he answered, “there are about two hundred things I want to ask Jesus right away. But really, the first might be this. ‘What did you write in the sand?’”
I laughed. “Me too!”
I mean, it’s the only time Jesus ever wrote anything.
“I’d give worlds to know,” Dan said. “Whatever he wrote probably got all scuffed before an apostle could read it and then write it down for the record.”
“I kinda like the idea that Jesus was a writer.”
“Didn’t do it much.”
I smiled. “Didn’t need to. Not like us ink-scribblers.”
You remember the scene.
Jesus was in the temple courtyard, and there were people all around Him asking questions, and He was answering the people. It was early morning.
I was there. You were there. Remember?
All of a sudden, a group of scribes and Pharisees pushed their way through the crowd. They were pulling after them a woman. She was struggling to get away from them, but they held her tight. Her expression was horrified. She shrieked and jerked back and forth, but she could not escape.
“Teacher,” the captors cried out, “this woman was just caught in the very act of committing adultery. The Law says—Moses says—she must be stoned to death. Right now. We have our stones right here.” Some of the scribes and Pharisees brandished their stones in their hands. The stones were heavy and sharp.
“What say you?”
Jesus looked at the woman. He looked her in the eye. She still jerked but her movement and her expression softened a little. She was a woman, after all, and He was looking her right in the eye—she a mere woman, who had just been doing what she had just been doing, and even so He was looking her right in the eye.
I remember that I was waiting to hear what Jesus would say. We all were waiting. Some of us could tell this was a scribe and Pharisee trick, what they were always doing, trying to trap Jesus.
What would Jesus say?
Instead of saying anything, Jesus bent down and, with his finger, he began to write words in the sand. Right there, right before the scribes and the Pharisees, and before the woman, too.
The scribes and the Pharisees were staring down and reading what He wrote.
I pressed closer and tried to see what he was writing, but I couldn’t get close enough. After a while, when the whole crowd had become silent, Jesus stood up. He looked at the scribes and the Pharisees, one at a time, in their eyes.
After He had looked at each one of them in the eye, He said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Again, he looked each one of them in the eye.
There was silence. Even the woman now was standing still, mesmerized with the moment, staring at Jesus.
Again, Jesus bent down and He added more words to his former words written in the sand.
In a moment, the oldest of the Pharisees dropped his stone. I was startled. Another of the Pharisees dropped his stone, and turned away. That second one let go of the woman’s sleeve. A third Pharisee dropped his stone and let go of the woman’s hair.
As Jesus wrote more words, more stones dropped, until all the stones had been dropped, and all the scribes and the Pharisees had turned away and melted back into the silence of the crowd.
The woman stood alone.
“Woman,” He said, “where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, my Lord.”
“Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
She hesitated. She took a step back. He was silent. We were all silent.
The woman took another step back. She seemed to straighten from the bent posture that horror and fear had imposed on her, in anticipation of her immediate death by stones.
He was looking at her, still looking directly into her eyes.
She reached out one hand, hesitantly, as though to say something or to touch Him, but she dropped her hand.
She half turned away, now looking at Him over her shoulder.
He was looking at her, still looking directly into her eyes.
She pushed back into the silence of the crowd. The crowd opened a way for her. Her steps became lighter, airier. Now she was away from Him. She turned toward Him once more, and He was looking at her, still looking directly into her eyes.
One last time, from further away, she turned and looked at Him, and He was looking at her, still looking directly into her eyes.
She skipped, she went, and she sinned no more.
What had Jesus written in the sand?
I don’t know. I’d like to ask Him. When I get my chance,
I hope I will.
Do you want to know what I think His answer might be?
Here’s what I think Jesus’ answer might be.
“I was writing their names.”
Full disclosure: the revelation of the final line of this story was told to me by a friend who is very astute. He understands relations between the timeless, eternal, sovereign truth of the Lord and the cramped, scraping, sin-ridden jiggle of mankind.
Reader, of which biblical character are you burning to ask a question?
Is there a mystery you’d like that character to clear up for you?
Who’s the character and what’s the question?
Please let me know; I'd love to hear from you about it!