Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Tuesday word, 11 Jun 2013

Encouraging Ingredient
St. Barnabas, Memorial (11 Jun 2013)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Jesus reminded his disciples then and us today to live his gospel. When we live his gospel, our lives proclaim it. When we live his gospel, we brighten the world. When we live his gospel, we invite others to shine with their light.1 When we live his gospel, we change the world, setting it ablaze with Jesus’ presence by our presence—even if we are not aware of the effect we have. What about salt?

Just as salt is never the meal but enhances it, and the bulb is useless if it gives no light, our deeds and choices shaped by Jesus’ gospel not only shine Jesus on our world, they keep us true to the covenant with people God has sealed in Jesus. Long before Jesus people sealed covenants and contracts by dipping bread into salt and eating it. Salt stood for the covenant: “[Recall] the Lord God of Israel gave the kingship over Israel for ever to David and his sons by a covenant of salt.”2 When Jesus calls us salt of the earth, he invites us to join him and witness to him, not only preserve our covenantal relationship with him.

The practical effects of salt deepened Jesus’ imagery. Mediterranean folk knew salt more than preserved and flavored food. Salt affects actions from baking to burning. We add salt in yeast-bread dough to aid the growth of yeast. Ancient Palestinians used salt to fire their ovens. Wood in large quantities was unavailable. So they made fuel from animal dung. To make it burn, they added salt.3 If salt was old or polluted—no longer salty—it was useless to make their fuel burn.

This burning property of salt may have been one reason why it was part of the recipe for incense4 and included in grain offerings used to worship the God of the covenant with Abraham and his descendants: every cereal offering that you present to the Lord shall be seasoned with salt. Do not let the salt of the covenant of your God be lacking from your cereal offering. On every offering you shall offer salt.5

As salt encourages burning, we pray to encourage one another and everyone by our manner of living and our witness to Jesus. St. Barnabas is a fine intercessor for us to do both. His name means son of encouragement.6 The grace we pray for is to burn with zeal, at once holy and humane, to hearten, heal and transform the societies in which we and all Christians live our vocations.

  1. Commenting on your light must shine before others, St. John Chrysostom encouraged the newly baptized that Jesus called them to do this. His 4th Catechetical Homily. Paul W. Harkins, St. John Chrysostom: Baptismal Instruction (v. 31 of Ancient Christian Writers series), p. 73.
  2. 2 Chronicles 13.5; Numbers 18:19.
  3. See John Pilch’s brief description of both dung-fuel and earth-ovens in ancient Israel.
  4. Exodus 30.35
  5. Leviticus 2.13.
  6. Acts 4.36.
Wiki-image of martydom of St. Barnabas public domain in the U.S.

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