Reflection for Thursday, February 24, 2000: 7th week in Ordinary Time.
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Meeks, Carolyn Comeaux
A couple of years ago a few other women and I were planning an overnight retreat, and in the planning process we explored the various ways we experience "salt" in our lives. The preparation took us in several directions, and added to the variety of the personal sharings that helped to bring alive the good news of the familiar gospel passage, "You are salt for the earth," which is present in Matthew's and Luke's gospels.|On the actual retreat, one woman talked of salt as seasoning, as zest for life. Another shared her story of salt as a preservative, saving something from the past that is ever worth remembering and taking forward in life for nourishment for herself and others. Yet another, a nurse, talked of salt as necessary for balance in the body. She provided us with information about salt's strength (blocks of salt have even been used for building in arid countries, she said) and particularly about the "gift of salty tears" that provide healing and balance and renewed strength during times of sadness or grief.|So the passage from Mark's gospel today takes me by surprise. This is a collection of hard sayings of Jesus, and it comes from the evangelist most centered on the suffering Messiah, writing for a persecuted community of early Christians. This earliest gospel does not say, "You are the salt of the earth." No. This one says, "Everyone will be salted with fire."|I search for the more familiar words here in Mark's gospel, but cannot find them. The words and phrases are both similar and dissimilar to what I remember. This gospel with the earliest recorded "take" on Jesus has words that come alive for me only because they are so strange. I do not understand the mixed metaphor here ... .the image of salt mixed with fire.|I think of "being salted" as if I were a plate of food awaiting some sprinkles from a shaker. We're Being Salted?? (Not "We're Salt"?) And not with grains of salt, but with flames or flickers of fire? The metaphor strains. I grow a bit tired. My head hurts. Are we being sprinkled with fire? Enflamed with salt? I envision, and feel, burns both chemical and scorching. No, I've changed my mind. I do not like this saying.|And then I think again of Mark's community, and the early Christians whose memory of Jesus, and the risen Christ, was so alive and so world-changing. And how threatening that was to authorities of the time, to those with power over them. And how in their own sufferings for the truth as they knew Him, they experienced "the cross" in their own lives, the humiliation and defeat and real physical punishment that came because they knew who they were now in a different way than they had before, and did not go back to their former way of thinking and relating. And in that suffering faith there emerged an understanding-not theological, but experiential-of Jesus as the Risen Christ, the point of meeting for God and humans--ever-powerful even today in the written witness of the gospel of Mark.|"Everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is excellent in its place; but if salt becomes tasteless, how can you season it? Keep salt in your hearts and you will be at peace with one another."|In our being salted with this fire of faith, or of relationship with this salty fiery God, we will undoubtedly encounter the suffering Christ-not only among those we encounter, but in our very selves and in our very experiences. Like the proverbial gold that's tested in fire, our inner resources will be tested and, in God's grace, purified. Perhaps God's purpose, in us as in the person of Jesus, is not to harm or destroy, but to strengthen the essence of the relationship that is faith. In this transformation, God draws us and others to the relationship that is above and under and through all other relationships-the relationship with the Divine Other-God.|Let us today keep salt in our hearts-the divine relatedness that seasons, fires, strengthens, promotes balance, and preserves the essential-and let us be at peace with one another.
University Ministry, Creighton University.
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