I don’t see myself as someone with a refined culinary taste. I’m no expert in types of food and, as a matter of fact, I don’t tend to remember what I ate the previous day. What I do have, whether it’s good or bad for my health, is a particular love for salt. I like salt on tomato, on popcorn, on fries, and sometimes even on pineapple. Salt makes a difference when I eat these things, and I am aware my liking of salt is not something isolated or unusual – who doesn’t like to put a little more salt on something they are about to eat? Well in the Bible we find salt to have a very important (and much commented and meditated on) role. My attention was drawn to salt again as I found this verse in Leviticus 2:13: “You shall season all your grain offerings with salt. You shall not let the salt of the covenant with your God be missing from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.”
I don’t know much, or anything, about the use of salt in the ancient world. Nor did I make a deep research about the symbolism of salt in covenants and sacrifices, or prepare a deep exegesis about the salt in the covenant with God. But I was surprised when I found there are several instances where God repeats and insists that salt be used in offerings. In Numbers 18:19, 2 Chronicles 13:5 and Ezekiel 43:24, we find instructions for the use of salt in the covenant with God. Well the first thing I thought with all this was: I’m not the only one who likes some salt in his food. Even God likes some salt in his offerings!
Of course we could talk about how we are called to be salt of the earth (Matt. 5:13), but I’m not going to stop there in this meditation. Salt in the New Testament is found not only connected to offerings, but also as an element that strengthens relationships. Jesus said to his disciples: “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” (Mk. 9:50). And this is why Paul instructs the Colossians to let their “speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Col. 4:6). It seems like salt has a relational purpose here: it makes our relationships easier to enjoy. Just like when we put salt on food so it tastes better, the New Testament invites us to season our relationships with salt so that we can be at peace with one another. Could this be the same role for salt in the covenant with God of Leviticus 2? Does it also have there a role of improving and strengthening our relationship with God? Why would God command all the offerings to be seasoned with salt? In light of Mark 9 and Colossians 4, I think God doesn’t want offerings that are given just because. If we are going to give something to God, he wants us to do it not only because that’s what is expected of us, or out of custom, habit, routine or inertia. God wants us to give him our life seasoned with salt. He wants an offering of joy, conviction, gratitude, dedication, self-giving, with a desire to please him and to do the right thing for him. The good cook (which is not me) will know that, when you make food with enthusiasm, you season it well. In this way the Lord also wants to receive our lives seasoned with salt, given with joy and gusto.
And just like we could offer God an offering without salt, we could also give others a life without flavor, a life of apathy, indifference, without care, without passion, a dull life. Many times we could live with others like that: without any salt. We could interact with others just because we must, out of necessity, without noticing the incredible privilege there is in being surrounded by others who are different to us and who have so much to add to our limited life. When salt is lacking among us, then we cannot live in peace with one another. We live in bitterness, resentment, envying others, imagining they judge us, judging them ourselves, avoiding or trying to show how they are always wrong while we are right. We stop putting salt to our relationships with others, and then we lose peace. We need the salt of self-giving, of forgetting of ourselves, the salt of rejoicing in others’ victories, of wishing well to others, the salt of empathy, of putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes, the salt of letting others interrupt us, and discovering what others have that we lack and could learn from them.
I think one way in which we lose salt in our relationships is when we forget what Paul instructs: let our conversation be gracious, seasoned with salt. Maybe we should put aside shallow conversation, conversation that avoids the other and that even avoids our own internal struggles. May our conversation be gracious, deep, relevant. May our conversation be an opportunity to get to know the other, to learn from others. May we put aside useless conversation, talking just to keep a conversation going. We have so much to share, but also so much to learn from others, and when we are locked up in ourselves, when we don’t see the others, then we lack the salt and we lose flavor in our relationships. Job, in his complex attempt to grasp the nature of his relationship with God asked himself a fundamental question: “Can that which is tasteless be eaten without salt?” (Job 6:6) And obviously the answer is no. Without salt, food is tasteless, impossible to eat or enjoy. And without salt, our offering to God and to others will be tasteless, and therefore it will make no sense. It would be better to not give an offering, than to give it without salt.