1. Salt

Analogies & Parables in Matthew: 1.  Salt

Mt 5:13  You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.

I have entitled this series ‘Analogies & Parables’ because I know that some people include any ‘teaching picture’ in a list of Jesus’ parables and yet it seems to me that mostly Jesus real parables were mini-stories, but he didn’t limit himself to just using such mini-stories to illustrate his teaching, he also used pictures or analogies as well. An analogy in a dictionary is “a resemblance in some aspect which the imagination finds in two or more things that are essentially different”. In our starting one we find Jesus calling us ‘salt’ We are not sodium chloride but he is teaching us that something about our lives, as his followers, will be similar to the effects and usages of salt.

The fact that Matthew writes, Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable,” (Mt 13:34) means we should not be surprised that in his Gospel there are about forty of these analogies and parables. Now there are various things that naturally flow out of this verse above.

First, in this opening analogy, Jesus speaks to his followers and starts with the word, “You” which sounds fairly obvious but whatever he means by calling us salt, he means we, and not unbelievers, are salt, i.e. salt is different from non-salt, we are to be different from non-believers. Now, as I say, this may sound somewhat obvious but some believers are ashamed of being different from their non-Christian neighbour and the reason for that, I suggest, is that they have never taken in the reality of the person Jesus has made them when they came to him and were born again. The presence of the Holy Spirit, indwelling us, means that we will automatically be different, as we allow Him to live out Jesus’ life from within us. This is a fundamental starting point.

Second, later in the verse, he speaks of this chemical that has lost its saltiness being “no longer good for anything,” which puts the emphasis on salt being used to do good. Jesus’ point in this Sermon on the Mount, starting here in chapter 5 of Matthew, is that believers, his followers, are to have a good effect in this world. This is a ‘Fallen World’ now Sin prevails in it since the Fall, but Jesus is not happy to leave it like that. When he died on the Cross he didn’t just do it to save individuals (although that was part of it), he did it so that those individuals who were saved would have an effect on this world, an effect that changes this world for good. When we look back, particularly to the last two centuries, at the lives of Christians and what they achieved, we see there were those concerned to educate the illiterate, who were some of the first to establish proper schools, we see those who were moved by compassion for the sick who set up hospitals, and in more recent decades, hospices for those terminally ill to be lovingly cared for, and we see those who were concerned at abuse of workers who were some of the first to establish unions to counter those abuses. In many and varied ways, the Christian Church has worked into society and brought good for all.

Third, continuing with what salt does, we see that it can have a purifying effect because of its own purity which was esteemed in ancient days. In the same way that light pushes back darkness (which we’ll see in the next study) so our purity can have a purifying effect in the community to which we belong. Our love, our goodness, our compassion, our honesty, our integrity, all these things have a purifying effect where we are out there in the midst of our community, when people know the reason why we hold to all of these things – we are Jesus’ followers.

Fourth, and flowing on from that, salt was used as a preservative in ancient times, and our presence, likewise, in society is to have a preserving effect. Sadly we have not been very good at that in the past century or so which is why our influence has become less in many parts of the world, and in many situations we have been marginalized. This is not so only in places around the globe where the Holy Spirit has been allowed to enliven the Church and its witness. We need to regain a closeness with the Lord whereby His love, His power and His revelation is seen in our lives, impacting the world around us and preventing decline as well as purifying.

Fifth, a third effect or usage of salt is to lend flavour to things. Is the reality of our local community that our presence is welcomed, our presence adds something which is really good for society? In a world of stress that desperately turns to ‘mindfulness’ techniques from Eastern religion, do those around us find we are those who come with peace and serenity? In a world that takes millions of tablets to stave off depression, do those around us find we are a people of joy and lightness? This is the flavouring effect.

Sixth, modern science tells us that a right balance of salt in our diet is essential for health and wellbeing. It seems there is always controversy about how much. At the time of writing a recent study has challenged the long-held belief that too much salt raises the risk of heart attacks and strokes, and has said that too little will do that.  So do our lives bring a balanced input bringing health and well-being to our communities?

Seventh, there are disputes among scientists as to whether salt can genuinely loose its saltiness but perhaps the truth is that when sodium chloride is affected by other chemicals it ceases to be pure sodium chloride and so Jesus’ point remains – unless we hold to the characteristics of salt, we will lose our impact on this world, the impact Jesus wants us to have. Other people seek to change the world for good by politics or by charitable works, but outside of Christ these things tend to self-centred and godless effort and fail to bring true life to the world that only Jesus can bring. Ultimately, it is Jesus in us, the Holy Spirit in us, when given free reign in our lives, who brings these various effects of salt to bear on our world. What does this simple little analogy say? We are designed to be world changers. May we be that!

36. Health & Infections

Meditations in the Law : No.36 : Health & Infections

Lev 13:1-3 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, 2″When anyone has a swelling or a rash or a bright spot on his skin that may become an infectious skin disease, he must be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons who is a priest. 3The priest is to examine the sore on his skin, and if the hair in the sore has turned white and the sore appears to be more than skin deep, it is an infectious skin disease. When the priest examines him, he shall pronounce him ceremonially unclean.

Now this is really going to separate out the adults from the children! If you turn away from this meditation, I understand! If rules about childbirth seemed a bit off track, ones about skin diseases seem even worse. But hold on, if, just for a moment we believe Paul’s declaration that All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching,” (2 Tim 3:16) and just for a moment we assume that the Jewish scholars and elders got it right in including this in the canon of the Old Testament, then we ought to have a look at it. One of my own underlying feelings about the Law of Moses, and a reason for writing these particular meditations is that within them we see the wisdom and knowledge and care of God for His people as He gives them very practical laws for living. One of the main premises behind this writing is the certainty that there is nothing freaky or weird about these laws, and they reveal much to us about the life of Israel and the wisdom of God.

Chapter 13 is a massive chapter on health care. God’s rules for life were not (and are not) all spiritual; they are practical and they helped Israel live in this Fallen World and cope when things went wrong. The earlier laws that we considered restrained sin and then dealt with it when it happened. These laws are health laws that seek to restrain infections. We don’t need to go into every detail but it will be helpful to observe the overall principles that are laid out.

Interestingly this starts out, “The Lord said to Moses and Aaron…” (v.1) as was the case with unclean animals (11:1). Some things He appeared to share just with Moses and others it appears He gave to them both together. Perhaps the latter are to be considered bigger issues that would affect all of Israel. The first instruction here is about a swelling or a rash or a bright spot on his skin that may become an infectious skin disease,” (v.2) i.e. when the first signs of something that may potentially become infectious are seen, then action needs to be taken. The action: “he must be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons who is a priest.” (v.2b) You will see a note in your Bible that ‘sons’ may also mean descendents, i.e. all subsequent priests. The priests were to learn to act as doctors.

What we then find is guidance for a clinical procedure. This wasn’t left to haphazard approaches; this was a process laid down. The priest was to examine it and assess its nature (v.3). If, by its nature, he determines that it is an infection the man is put in the ‘ceremonially unclean’ group which, as we’ve suggested before, is as likely to mean that he’s excused religious duties as much as it says anything about his spiritual state. It may be that the priest needs to carry on observing it and in that case (v.4) he puts the person in isolation for seven days to observe whether it is getting worse. On the seventh day he carries out a further inspection and makes a determination. If it is unclear then he stays in isolation for a further seven days (v.5). There is then a further inspection and makes a determination that either it is nothing to worry about or that it is infectious (v.6).

Now we have here a very simple and obvious process for checking health and preventing outbreaks of infection. These guidance rules then move on to when it is determined that it is a real infectious skin infection (v.9 on).  The crucial issue becomes whether there is ‘raw flesh’ or an open sore (v.10,14-16)).  This is the sign of something serious (v.11). If the skin infection just goes white that is a sign of it clearing up and he is all right (v.12,13,16,17).

The Law then continues on to cover boils (v.18-23), burns (v.23-28), sores, spots and rashes (v.29-44). When there is a clear, serious, infectious disease the person concerned is to live outside the camp in isolation (v.45,46). In such a way the disease will be limited. The remainder of the chapter covers mildew that may carry infections and how to assess it and deal with it (v.47-59). Chapter 14 goes on to describe the offerings to be brought after someone is healed of one of these diseases, rather in the same way and, I suggest, for the same reasons,  as the instructions for a woman after childbirth.

Of course what the Law doesn’t cover is the question of Healing. When the Lord brought Israel out of Egypt He declared, If you listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you.” (Ex 15:26) i.e. obedience brings the blessing of health and healing from the Lord. At Mount Sinai He declared, “Worship the LORD your God, and his blessing will be on your food and water. I will take away sickness from among you, and none will miscarry or be barren in your land. I will give you a full life span.” (Ex 23:25,26) i.e. again a promise of health with the relationship.

We see the Lord’s healing in operation in the Old Testament specifically in the case of Naaman (2 Kings 5:1-). Similarly we see Hezekiah becoming ill, calling on the Lord and being healed (Isa 38). The Law, as we have said previously, covered situations where things went wrong, and this chapter, seen in the light of the verses about health and healing, becomes a chapter about grace – God’s provision of how to cope when they have not been in a good relationship with Him and sickness has invaded their lives. He was always there for them to call upon to bring healing, but healing requires faith!