“For everyone will be salted with fire.” (Mark 9:49)
Today we use salt to make food tasty. Before modern technology, people used salt to preserve food.
Salt was as necessary then as refrigeration is today. Salt was the difference between edible food and rotten food, between eating and starving.
For Jesus, salt is something that preserves and prevents spoilage. Fire, in contrast, is something that burns and destroys.
And so Jesus is saying something deliberately paradoxical.
It’s as if he’s saying, “Everything will be refrigerated in an incinerator.”
A paradox is not a contradiction—it only seems like a contradiction. A paradox is a riddle. You try to figure out how something that seems to make no sense actually does make sense.
Now, imagine buying a container of strawberries. You open it, and there’s one with mold on it. What do you do? You pick it out and throw it in the compost. Because one berry is composted, the others can remain fresh.
God helps us do this within ourselves. Each of us is like a container of strawberries, some of which are moldy. They need to go in the compost to keep the others from spoiling.
And what do these strawberries represent? For one thing, they represent our habits.
When I was younger, I was habitually—almost compulsively—sarcastic. One day I realized I needed to resist this habit. I had to say no to the sarcastic impulse that was controlling me. I had to throw that part of myself in the fire.
In God, there is a yes and a no. God cares for us unconditionally and has an unwavering commitment to our well-being. This is why he leads us inevitably to freely affirm his yes and his no.
In doing this, God shows us both mercy and justice.
Jesus is reminding us of the unyielding nature of God’s no.