Congratulations to Johanna Young, the winner of our 1st Annual Essay Contest! Johanna attends Grove City College. She explains her motivation for writing:
Writing is my way of thinking; it forces me to take the time to process experiences and actually learn, remember details, clarify ideas, and freeze memories. It’s also a measure of growth. It is something that I can eventually look back on, remember how I used to think, and see that the words I put together are not my own.
Read her winning entry below:
A Taste of Fidelity
Symbols are inescapable. Regardless of place or time period, if there is culture, there is symbolism; a red light, a swastika, nearly every object conveys something about status, instruction, or values. The scriptures are especially known for holding a wealth of meaning, although at times the long-winded names and numbers might seem monotonous. Our difficulty in understanding ancient writings is largely due to the distance between our world and that of the writer. Because symbols change meanings over time, a cursory reading of Biblical passages often results in frustration and confusion. But like with any poetry, understanding the depth of a message first requires an understanding of the original audience.
This is easier said than done. Aside from dealing with the vast time span that the Bible covers, the individual books are written to a range of communities stretching from ancient Israel to first-century Rome. Despite this difficulty, most of the recipients of these writings shared the core foundation of faith: first Judaism, and later, Christianity. Throughout changing times and varying situations of slavery, rebellion, oppression, and freedom, the promises of God and the faith and failures of His chosen people offer continuity to Biblical history. This is especially visible in the authors’ use of symbols to demonstrate messages. Although the audiences change, the similes and analogies used in the Old and New Testaments share many images.
One such picture that recurs throughout Scripture is the value of salt. Currently, the mineral is so common that it provokes little thought, yet it remains a critical ingredient in the nearly all recipes. In Biblical times, however, salt was much more than a basic seasoning. Ancient teachers associated salt with wealth, friendship, preservation, fidelity, and wisdom. In Matthew 5:13 Christ says, “If salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?” The effect of salt is unique and invaluable; if it fails to fulfill its purpose, “it is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” (NAB) In this instance, Jesus is speaking of His disciples being the salt of the Earth, to flavor the world with their good works and message of truth.
Paul also employs the simple mineral as an example for living a Christian life, particularly in regard to one’s words. Colossians 4:6 advises readers to “let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you know how you should respond to each one” (NAB). Because language is a gift from God, we are to use it to its full capacity, arranging our words thoughtfully and beautifully whether in poetry or prose. However, viewing this verse from the standpoint of the audience in Colossae, Paul is not only implying that our words should be in good taste. As Christians, we must be focused on how our words are affecting the other person. The gift of language should be paired with wisdom to determine what each individual needs to hear, to draw out the unique “flavors” of their personality and talents, and to communicate our trustworthiness.
This understanding of the passage relates to how salt was used by the ancient Hebrews. Since salt is associated with fidelity, it was required that it be presented with offerings and used to seal covenants, such as in Numbers 18:19. Here, the Lord tells Aaron that “this is an inviolable covenant to last forever before the Lord, for you and for your descendants” (NAB). This inviolable covenant, translated more literally, is a covenant of salt. In Leviticus 2:13 the Lord instructs Moses to “not let the salt of the covenant of your God be lacking from your cereal offering. On every offering you shall offer salt.” Salt serves as a constant reminder to the Israelites of the loyalty between God and His people. In Paul’s writings to the Colossians over 1,000 years later, the Jewish and Gentile recipients would have recognized the significance of salt and its implications concerning regard for others, especially in terms of honor and wisdom in presenting their words.
Bishop K.C. Pillai sheds light on the subject through his childhood experience of Hinduism and Indian culture. In his book, Light Through an Eastern Window, Pillai writes, “In the East, salt is a pledge, a promise of fidelity. If I come to your house and eat with you food which has been seasoned with salt, I can never betray you or do you harm.” After sharing in a salt covenant, even a thief would be trustworthy. Coming from this perspective, the Eastern church at Colossae would have read Paul’s words as an instruction to offer a pledge of friendship to whomever they engaged in conversation.
Like any seasoning, salt can be overused. If our words are too heavily focused on how wise we sound, our message may quickly become pretentious and no longer represent the humility of God. The key is balance; this is why Paul first instructs his readers to keep their speech gracious, as well as truthful and honorable. Taking the time to discern how we should present our words focuses our attention on the other party, affording us insight into what God desires us to say to them. This is a true offering of friendship. Although the effect of our words is often invisible, following Paul’s recommendation can provide assurance that our speech is well-seasoned.