The Salt of the Spirit

“The Salt of the Spirit”
A reflection on Mark 9:49-50
Thursday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time
©2022 by Gloria M. Chang

The salt of the Spirit purifies the eye
Of the heart like fire, the Church to unify.

“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.”

Mark 9:49-50

Jesus came to baptize “with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16). The fire of the Holy Spirit dissolves division, unifying the Body of Christ as at Pentecost when “tongues as of fire” came to rest on the disciples. People of multiple tribes and nations suddenly heard the disciples speaking in their “own tongues of the mighty acts of God” (Acts 2:11). 

Salt is abrasive, with cleansing, rejuvenating properties. Purity of heart is the necessary condition for union with God: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).

Salt also preserves flavor and prevents spoilage. “You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus says in Matthew 5:13. Without salt, one slips away into the decaying, perishing world. The salt of the Spirit is the life of Christ enlivening persons beyond the grave: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26).

Salt symbolizes friendship with God and one another. In ancient Israel, sacrifices to the Lord, whether of grain offerings or animals, were sprinkled with salt (Leviticus 2:13; Ezekiel 43:23-24). The Middle Eastern custom of eating salt together to seal an alliance shaped God’s relationship with Israel characterized as a “covenant of salt” (Numbers 18:19; 2 Chronicles 13:5).

Hebrew parents salted their newborns as a sign of welcome into the covenant family of God. In a poignant description of Jerusalem’s pre-Israelite origins, the prophet Ezekiel writes, “By origin and birth you belong to the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite, your mother a Hittite. As for your birth, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut; you were not washed with water or anointed; you were not rubbed with salt or wrapped in swaddling clothes” (Ezekiel 16:4).

Salt makes friends of enemies. When an Arab says, “There is salt between us,” harmony is indicated. Stories abound in the East of hostilities pacified by the eating of salt. A robber desists when he discovers that he has eaten salt during his plunder. A prisoner obtains release by eating salt with his captor. A traveler averts the designs of raiders by salting their food.1

“Keep salt in yourselves and you will have peace with one another,” Jesus counsels (Mark 9:50). The cultural and religious significance of salt in the Bible makes the Gospel references to salt come alive.

Let your speech always be gracious,
seasoned with salt,
so that you know how you should
respond to each one.

Colossians 4:6

Related posts: 

We Are Our Neighbors’ Keepers
You Are the Salt of the Earth


1 Revised English Version Commentary on 2 Chronicles 13:5 and the Jewish Encyclopedia on Salt

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