The Gospel text for this Sunday [Mark 9:38-50] has two verses at the end that are unique to this gospel account: ‘For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltines, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another (ESV).’
What is Jesus talking about?
Well … he is talking about salt, fire, and peace. Just previously he was talking about the unquenchable fire of hell (see verses 47-8). But he seems to be transitioning to a different type of fire, since EVERYONE is going to be salted with this fire.
Your bible may have a footnote that says, ‘Some manuscripts add and every sacrifice will be salted with salt. Is Jesus also talking about sacrifice? The list seems to be getting longer.
Metzger’s Textual Commentary (p. 87) provides the following helpful comment: ‘At a very early period a scribe, having found in Lv 2.13 a clue to the meaning of Jesus’ enigmatic statement, wrote the Old Testament passage in the margin of his copy of Mark.’
By the way, Leviticus 2:13 reads this way: ‘You shall season all your grain offerings with salt. You shall not let the salt of the covenant with your God be missing from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.’
We usually do not think of salt as being connected to the covenant. So, you may want to add that to the list as well.
The last two words which were added to the list, sacrifice and covenant, are huge within the Old Testament and should, therefore, also be huge within the New. And they are—since the focus is on Jesus and what he did.
Jesus does not talk about salt a lot; he does not talk about fire a lot; he does not even talk about peace a lot. But in this part of the Gospel according to Mark, he is talking about his sacrifice—although he does not use that term.
Each gospel account makes its transition to Jesus’ journey to the cross in different ways. The way Jesus has been described, he has been slowly separating himself from his disciples. They cannot keep the covenant. They cannot make an acceptable sacrifice to God. Jesus can. Jesus will.
With all the persecution going on in the early history of the Church, those Christians may have felt as though they were being sacrificed. In times of great stress, there is dissention and difficulty. Sinful people can focus too much on the problems or too much on themselves.
These words of Jesus are about God keeping his covenantal promise, that the seed of Eve would have his heel bruised—but would crush Satan’s head (see Genesis 3). God words do what they say. They are not so much a powerful thing; they are more of a loving thing. Jesus took care of all the important stuff.
We are at peace with one another when we look to those words. Those words connect us to both God and others. And that is a nice place to be—despite the troubles that will trouble us for just a little while longer.