Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Salt - the Eucharistic imagery

Our parish is doing a craft event for children on Palm Sunday. The crafts will be all related to salt and making things using salt. This has led me to think about the imagery in salt. Why is every sacrifice to be salted with salt (Leviticus 2:13)? What has it to do with us?

The epistle to the Hebrews repeatedly (7 times: Hebrews 4:16, 7:25, 10:1, 10:22, 11:6, 12:18, 12:22) invites us to approach (προσέρχομαι) the Mercy Seat and finally to enter the Holy of Holies (Hebrews 10:19).  This letter is a homily on the psalms using many of them to form the dialogue in the epistle between the Father and the Son. (There are 25 references to the psalms in Hebrews, a not necessarily comprehensive list is here.) Approach and enter - gift - and sacrifice are all tied together in the word qorban which we might recognize from Mark 7:11. While qorban may be interpreted as vow, its usage in Leviticus 2:13 shows that it has to do with sacrifice, offering, and the related verb קרב has to do with approaching (but not entering - at least not for anyone but the High Priest and that only once a year at the sacrifice of the atonement, Leviticus 16:34). Note too how qrb is used in the holiness code (Leviticus uses the verb 91 times - about a third of the total in the Senior Testament.)

With this as background and sort of in the distance - I was looking for salt and noticed the word in psalm 107:33-34.

He turns rivers into a wilderness
and a place of water into thirsty ground
a land of fruit into a salt plain
because of the evil of those dwelling in her

There’s a little salt for the children's crafts. They could make a wilderness.  So I thought I had better look for more salt.  It might also be too expensive for the children to make salt plains or for that matter, pillars of salt (after the manner of Lot's wife).

So here is the critical verse in Leviticus 2:13. Salt and this verse is referred to in Mark 9:49-50. Only Mark keeps the Leviticus reference.  So I thought I had better translate the verse for myself to see what I found - hence the need to explain the background of my own inner pastures (which I hope will not become a salt plain).

And every oblation of thy meat offering shalt thou season (lit. salt) with salt; neither shalt thou suffer the salt of the covenant of thy God to be lacking from thy meat offering: with all thine offerings (=oblations) thou shalt offer salt. (AV)

Here's my close reading:
Vecol (and every) qorban (oblation) minxateka (meat offering of you) bamelax (with salt) timalax (you will salt)
velo tashbit (and you will not rest – same word as sabbath) melax (the salt - definite article implied by the following words) berit (of the covenant – definite because of the following word) eloheka (of your God) me-al minxateka (from on your meat offering)
al col qorbaneka (on all your oblations) taqriv (you will oblate) melax (salt)
וְכָל־קָרְבַּן מִנְחָתְךָ בַּמֶּלַח תִּמְלָח וְלֹא תַשְׁבִּית מֶלַח בְּרִית אֱלֹהֶיךָ מֵעַל מִנְחָתֶךָ עַל כָּל־קָרְבָּנְךָ תַּקְרִיב מֶֽלַח׃ ס

What a beautiful verse! I must translate Leviticus – it is poetry!!! The you is always singular.

Look at that chiastic structure:
every oblationmeat offering – salt salt
no rest – salt – covenant – your God
on meat offering – on every oblation – oblate – salt

And every approach and gift of a meat offering you will salt with salt
And you will not cease the salt of the covenant of your God on your meat offering
On every approach and gift you will approach and give salt

My translation is freely associating the qorban = to draw near as the invitation in the book of Hebrews to approach the throne of grace and boldly enter the Holy of Holies and in the Eucharistic explanation (taken from Hebrews) to draw near with faith

So what is the salt? The salt plain, and the pillar of salt represent the destruction of all of our inner enemies that prevent our approaching and coming near to the Mercy Seat which is the remembrance of the death of Jesus in the Eucharist (see also the psalms of remembrance – 6, 38, 70, 137) in whom all our enemies are destroyed so that we may offer our offerings and approach and enter in purity (1 John 3:3).  So Jesus says – leave your gift at the altar and be reconciled (Matthew 5:24)… and Paul warns about eating and drinking to our own condemnation ( 1 Cor 11:29), but invites the presentation and gift of our bodies, a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1)…