French Fries for Jesus (how to be the salt of the earth)

Never apply a metaphor beyond the parameters set by the text.

There's a moment we will all face at some point in our lives. That moment when you order fries at McDonald's... and they forget to put on the salt. Whenever this has happened to me, I don't even want them anymore. And if I wasn't such a fatty, I'd probably throw them in my fire pit so that the local wildlife wouldn't have to suffer the same disappointment.

The salt is what makes the french fries. In fact, I'd say it makes McDonald's. And what's funny is that without it, the food doesn't taste bad, just bland. Yet most of us cringe at the thought. We'd rather get mediocre, salted fries from somewhere else than unsalted fries from the golden arches. Salt tastes that good.

It's also one of the more interesting comparisons that the church is given. Scripture records Jesus saying:
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 underfoot. (Matthew 5)
Theologians over the years have noted that salt in the ancient world was a preserving agent and was used to cure meats. So when Jesus calls us the salt of the earth, many pastors today would interpret this to mean that the church is a spiritual preserving agent. Before, God used Israel to keep the nations of the world in line, but now the church has been given the job of preserving God's truth amid culture.

Support for this would come from the second metaphor that follows:
You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.
Light is a common theme in the Bible, and since it has the power to expose darkness, it makes sense that salt carries a similar connotation. Also, some contend that the man of lawlessness Paul describes in 2 Thessalonians is being restrained by the Holy Spirit:
And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way.
Since the Holy Spirit indwells the church and some hold that the church will be removed by a secret rapture, it could be said that the church's purpose is to hold the line against the devil until God decides to give those who crave evil exactly what they want.

All that being said, this interpretation ultimately proves faulty because it abuses the intent of metaphors.

The words used in Matthew as well as the parallel accounts in Mark and Luke all focus on the idea of seasoning. Mark, in particular, uses a culinary term making the phrase "how can you make it salty again?" better translated as "how can you make it savory again?" In other words, all three passages are using salt as a seasoning agent, not a preserving one (as do other parts of the Bible).

The use of metaphors in the Bible is always deliberate and carefully executed to convey a very specific message. For example, when Jesus called Peter the rock of the church, he was using that metaphor for its foundational connotation. So it would be inappropriate to apply the destructive connotation of rocks derived from biblical stonings and then blame all of the division within the church on the Catholic notion of apostolic succession. It may be one potential connotation of the metaphor, but there is no spiritual significance or value in it or any others unless the context clearly calls for it. Ignoring this is tantamount to reading our own ideas back into God's revelation.

When we misunderstand metaphors, we not only get faulty interpretations; we get faulty theology. This preservation theology has created a church that's put a bad taste in the mouth of today's culture. We're abrasive and combative, and we've celebrated the world's displeasure with us under the banner of being hated for Christ's sake. We're so convinced that persona non grata is the litmus test of a good preserver that we've allowed preservation theology to mutate into persecution theology--a perversion of Christ's body that shifts the focus from how we treat others to how we're treated.

And that's just not at all what Jesus meant by salt. Like McDonald's french fries, salt is desirable and pleasant, and applying it to the church meant that we, too, are to be perceived as pleasant. Yes, Jesus went on to call us light, but exposing evil isn't intended to invite derision as much as glory to God. In fact, our behavior is to be so irreproachable that those who attempt to discredit us will look foolish. We're to lead quiet lives, respect what's right in the sight of all people, and have good reputations with the world. Let's call that pleasantness theology. And it's something we'll never achieve if we think being hated for Christ is the goal and not merely a byproduct.

photo credit: French Fries Burger King Food Macro February 12, 20113 via photopin (license)