Cultural Context 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time A
February 9, 2014
Salt and Fire
visitors to Israel who travel the road north from Jerusalem
toward Shechem notice clay-ovens next to some houses along
the roadside. Many prefer to cook in these outdoor ovens rather
than on their electric or propane gas stoves.
Ovens like these have been around since ancient times. In the
biblical period each village had a common oven. Since villagers
were often members of a very large, extended family, these
common ovens were family ovens.
The common fuel for the oven was something that was more plentiful
than wood: camel or donkey dung. One of the duties each young
girl had to learn was to collect the dung, mix salt in it,
and mould it into patties to be left in the sun to dry. In
the Middle East and many Third World countries, such dung patties
are still used as fuel today.
A slab of salt was placed at the base of the oven and upon
it the salted dung patty. Salt has catalytic properties which
cause the dung to burn. Eventually the salt slab loses its
catalytic ability and becomes useless.
Or as Jesus says, “It is good for nothing but to be thrown outside where
it can still provide a sure footing in a muddy road.”
This is the Mediterranean cultural imagery Jesus has in mind when he says: “You,
my disciples; are the salt, that is, catalyst for the earth-oven.” (In the
Aramaic and Hebrew languages which Jesus spoke, one and the same word means “earth” and “clay-oven.”)
To be salt for the earth-oven is to start fires and make things burn. If Jesus’
disciples do this, they will also be “light of the earth.” The two
images so masterfully joined show Jesus to be a clever and imaginative teacher.
The salty Jesus started fires and created light. Some saw and understood. Others
got burnt and put him to death. How can American believers imitate the salty
Jesus? How would this work in American culture?
J. Pilch is a biblical scholar and
facilitator of parish renewals.Liturgical Press has published
fourteen books by Pilch exploring the
“cultural world” of the Bible.
Go to http://www.litpress.org/ to
find out more.
The complete text of the
above article can be found in:
The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle A
John J. Pilch. The Liturgical Press. 1995. pp. 25-27.
Martin Erspamer, O.S.B.
from Religious Clip Art for the
Liturgical Year (A, B, and C).
Used by permission of Liturgy Training
Publications. This art may be reproduced
only by parishes who purchase the
collection in book or CD-ROM form. For
more information go to: http://www.ltp.org/