Condiments: Salt & forgiveness

by | Apr 21, 2024

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, our bodies require around 500 mg of sodium to “conduct nerve impulses, contract and relax muscles, and maintain the proper balance of water and minerals.” Their website also points out other beneficial uses. Salt serves as a binder and stabilizer, preservative, and flavor enhancer for food.

However, too much salt can lead to health problems like heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure, not to mention a loss of calcium. On average, however, Americans consume over six times what our bodies need for good health. And our health statistics reflect our indulgences. But most of our excess salt comes from processed foods and not the salt shaker on our tables.

Every chef knows how important salt is for bringing out flavors and smells in food. Again, there’s a delicate balance. Too much salt in chocolate chip cookies won’t improve their appeal. But just the right amount of salt makes a noticeable difference.

Most chefs prefer salt that isn’t processed, such as kosher. I prefer freshly ground pink Himalayan salt. These salts are generally less salty (contain less sodium) than processed options, which reduces the risk of adding too much.

In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says to the gathered crowd, “You are like salt for the whole human race.” Was He saying they’re necessary, but only in small quantities? Let’s get back to this question later.

First, let’s consider who was likely in the audience. It’s estimated that over 80 percent of persons living in first century Palestine were farmers living in the peasant social class. Many, if not most, were tenant farmers, which means someone else owned the land. And as much as two-thirds of their crops went to rent, taxes, and tolls. A Galilean peasant, Jesus, came from this group and spoke their language.

Within this peasant social class, there were some who lived in even more desperate circumstances. Richard Rohr takes us to the Greek word used by Matthew to describe those Jesus blesses as He began His sermon. The ptochoi are the destitute. The poorest of the peasant class.

Also, forgiveness of sin, according to religious practice, took place within a rigid system of rituals and required a minimal payment. Additionally, the rigid system of rituals denied access to individuals in certain occupations, such as shepherds, or circumstances, such as the sick or impoverished. Some individuals were denied access based on their occupation. Some because of economics.

Meanwhile, John the Baptist preached in the wilderness, outside the control of the religious hierarchy, and invited anyone and everyone to repent and be baptized in the Jordan River. John’s invitation implied forgiveness was as available as free water.

This notion threatened the very foundation of the religious order. Jesus also went to John to be baptized. Forgiveness, really, is that available and so is God!

Religion and religious people are salt. “But,” Jesus continues, “if salt loses its saltiness, there is no way to make it salty again. It has become worthless.” Religion had lost its saltiness. Worse, those within the system seemed completely unaware of their hypocrisy.

You are like salt for the whole human race. But if salt loses its saltiness, there is no way to make it salty again.
Matthew 5:13

So when Jesus holds up a mirror for them to rethink what it means to love God and the meaning behind their own rituals, they were furious. For them, Jesus represented a threat.

Father Rohr argues, “What killed Jesus was not bad people; it was good people following conventional wisdom.” However, it ‘s not that all conventional wisdom is bad. Nor was all religion bad. And people need ritual, common rules and boundaries. The issue, for Jesus it seems, is who gets invited.

Richard Rohr dedicates a chapter to suppers. Jesus, like all humans, ate meals. But unlike most of us, Jesus wasn’t picky about who else sat at the table with Him. And since Jesus was present at these meals, church was in session. Forgiveness was as free as water.

There was no choir, no worship band, no pulpit. But there was Jesus and the Word that He spoke both then and now. “The church, as Jesus seems to be defining it,” writes Rohr, “is the gathering of accepted brokenness. It’s not the gathering of the saved¦ The church is never a members-only club.”

And the early church began this new Way, introduced by Jesus and initially organized by His first disciples with the urging and guidance of the Holy Spirit. But has the church continued this earlier tradition, or is the church, again, a gathering only of the saved and deemed worthy?

Have we lost our saltiness?

Chefs know to taste their creations before adding more salt. They’re looking for balance. God gifted them with a discerning palette and a love for feeding others. Chefs are themselves salt.

God gifted you and me in special ways, such that we each contribute to the meal. We aren’t all chefs, but each of us needs a certain amount of salt in our diet. We’re each salt.

Forgiveness is as free as water. And doesn’t need special processing, bottling or a fancy label or a particular formula.

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Pastor Tommy


Parts of our series was inspired by Fr. Richard Rohr. JesusAlternative Plan. Cincinnati: Franciscan Media, 2022.

“Salt and Sodium.” © The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, March 2023. Retrieved from: link

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