In the Aramaic language that Jesus spoke the word translated
as “earth” can alsoand in this passage, culturally
more plausiblybe translated as “earth-oven.”
The “earth-oven”' the common stove in Mediterranean
villages, was made of mud or clay. The fuel it burned was camel-dung
patties, dried and salted so that they would burn better. Salt
has mysterious power. The block of salt on the floor of the
earth-oven kept the fire going just as much as the salt crystals
in the dung patties. Eventually a block of salt in the earth-oven
loses its catalytic ability and must be thrown out (Matthew 5:13).
Salt that can no longer burn the fuel or prepare the fuel is
useless (Luke 14:34-35).
SALTY OR FIERY PEOPLE
Jesus came to light the oven (Luke 12:49), that is, Jesus presents
himself as a catalyst. He causes fires to break out, arguments
to erupt, families to quarrel and become divided in their opinion
of him. He urges his disciples likewise to be catalytic and
to do the same thing he does (Matthew 5:13; Mark 9:49).
JESUS THE “DIVISIVE CATALYST”
Jesus’ assertion that he will cause division in families is
obviously something above and beyond the normal Mediterranean
family and group shenanigans. It is far more serious.
The sharp delineation of social hierarchy that characterized
antiquity was rigidly observed by all. No one dared step out
of the inherited or assigned place. To do so would be to risk
death. One move in this deadly direction would be to socialize
with people outside of one’s social position. Contemporaries
of Jesus who liked him and decided to follow him would also
have to join his fictive family group. “My mother and brothers,”
that is, my new, fictive relatives, said Jesus, “are those
who hear the word of God and do it!” (Luke 8:21).
To separate oneself from one’s family or clan is literally a
matter of life and death. Elites, (including the “greedy
[rich]” whom Luke so often includes in his Gospel), would
lose everything, all their wealth, power, and influence, by
associating with the wrong kind of people or joining the wrong
kinds of groups.
Joining Jesus’ group also jeopardized one’s relations with the
very large kinship network formed by marriage, a network far
larger than the biological family. This is where the in-laws
and other such family members enter the picture (Luke 12:52-53).
By demonstrating how to be catalysts for the fire in the earth-oven
and summoning us to be and do the same, Jesus challenges American
believers. Our culture takes pride in its faith in God, but
we believe religion and politics should not mix. Clergy may
pray before legislative sessions and bless conflicts, but criticism
and protest are not welcome.
Who among us is salt of the earth?
Copyright © 1997
by The Order of St. Benedict, Inc., Collegeville, Minnesota.
All rights reserved. Used by permission from The Liturgical
Press, Collegeville, Minnesota 56321