Sunday, August 21, 2016

Luke 14.1, 7-14: The Salt

A conference preacher once asked why in the world artists continued to depict Jesus as some sort of emaciated figure when all he did was eat! The gospel reading for Proper 17C/Ordinary 22C is (yet another) occasion when Jesus is invited to a dinner party. On this particular occasion (Luke 14:1, 7-14), Jesus criticizes the actions and behavior of the other guests. Awkward.

The problem is that the guests all work to seat themselves as the guest of honor. Jesus says, "How embarrassing will it be when the host comes to you and announces that someone more important than you has arrived and you'll need to move down the table!" Where all the guests wanted to be was, in medieval terms, "above the salt." Salt, which at one time was as valuable as gold, was placed in the middle of the dining table. People of noble rank were seated "above the salt" (between the salt cellar and the head of the table, where the lord and lady of the house were seated). Guests of lower standing and perhaps some of the higher ranking servants were seated "below the salt."

The traditional labor of the month for January was feasting. What else was there to do in the winter? In the January illustration from the Grimani Breviary, a boat-shaped salt cellar is on the table at the far right of the illustration. The ornateness of salt cellars is easily seen in the Burghley nef. Fashioned in the shape of a boat (tying the salt to its source, the sea) this 16th-century salt cellar continued a fashion that is documented as early as the 13th century. Royal household inventories list large ship-shaped salt cellars made of gold and silver.
 (Above left) The Burghley Nef. 1527-1528. Nautilus shell with parcel-silver gilt mounts and pearls. London: Victoria and Albert Museum. (Above right). "January" from the Breviario Grimani. 1510s. Venice, Italy: Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana.

"Sit below the salt," Jesus says. "And then you will be honored when the host insists that you move up." He then suggests that if you are a host, perhaps the only people you should invite to dinner are those who would expect to be sitting below the salt...or those who would never expect to be invited to dinner at all.

For thoughts on Jeremiah 2:4-13, click here.

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