On Being Salted by Fire

Thursday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

James 5: 1-6; Mark 9: 41-50

Dc. Larry Brockman


The message is pretty strong today, isn’t it? First, James comes down pretty hard on those who are preoccupied with themselves. Then, Jesus comes down hard on those who lead others astray. Both of these readings should give us pause.

Are we preoccupied with ourselves, and are we leading others astray?

Then Jesus ends today’s Gospel with some interesting statements: First, he says “Everyone will be salted with fire”, and then he says: “Keep salt in yourselves and you will have peace with one another”. Just what does all of that mean?

 First, consider that fire is a method of purification.  So perhaps he is saying that all of us will be purified from our tendency to sin.  We can wait for God to purify us with fire or we can purify ourselves.  And certainly, we have been given tools for such self-purification.  We will be entering the season of Lent in less than a week.  Lent involves three classical devices for purification- Prayer, Almsgiving, and Fasting.  Much can be said about each of them; but the emphasis in Fasting is on self-mortification, meaning discipline of self to avoid preoccupation with self-absorption.  Almsgiving means going out of our way to do something for others, and it isn’t just money either, but other forms of self-sacrifice for the sake of others. These devices sound very much like an anecdote for the preoccupation with self that James talks about. And Prayer is a way for us to reflect on our lives and talk to God about what we should change to avoid sin in the future.  Such a change completes the purification process.

 A self-imposed 40 day period of Lenten purification involving Prayer, Almsgiving, and Fasting seems so much more desirable than the literal purification by fire implied in the Gospel.  But that literal “salting by fire” is something Jesus says will happen to all of us.  And indeed, suffering is a part of life for all of us- none of us is exempt.  But some of the suffering is consequences of our actions.  And so, if we have an opportunity to avoid adverse consequences by repenting and changing our lives as we do during Lent, why not take advantage of it?

 That brings us to the second interesting statement.  “Keep salt in yourselves and you will have peace with one another”.  Salt has classically been considered a preservative.

So, we should purify ourselves first, and then do what is required to preserve our newfound state of Grace, and so, this means maintaining our purified state is important.  We can do that by availing ourselves of the Sacraments- Confession and Communion, and by living up to the changes we commit to in our lives.

Let us all make a commitment to purify and salt ourselves this Lent.  Then we will live in peace with one another.


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