In 587 BCE, Jerusalem fell in the Second Babylonian siege. The temple destroyed, the inhabitants were taken into captivity. Even to this day, the laments of the captives linger, " By the waters of Babylon, we sat down and wept..." echoing across time in popular music. Scattered from Jerusalem, temple worship was no longer possible. Ritual sacrifice was no longer the center of the religion as the majority no longer lived in the area of Jerusalem, but throughout the Diaspora. Contemporary scholars trace the development of synagogues to this shift as the body of Israel split, diverging into different branches of Judaism, emerging later with the Babylonian and Palestinian Talmud.
Shifting the emphasis from temple worship to the home, the altar of sacrifice outside the temple became the table within the house. And although the Cohen and Levite tribes were responsible for temple worship and ritual purification, dispersion forced changes moving away from temple service and purification to the personal commitment of embracing and applying Torah to practical daily living.
Jesus went up on the mountain and taught:
Blessed are the poor in spirit
Blessed are they that mourn
Blessed are the meek
Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness sake
Blessed are the merciful
Blessed are the pure in heart
Blessed are the peacemakers
Blessed are they that are persecuted for righteousness' sake
"Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt has lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in Heaven." Mt:5:13-16
But what did he teach? He responded by saying, there are two great commandments, reciting the Shema, "Hear Oh Israel, the Lord is One..." Dt 6:4-5 and "Thour shalt love they neighbor as thyself." Lv 19:18
Was this new? No, but summarizes the entire teaching of the torah with the 613 mitzvot or commandments, including the works of mercy and compassion for man and beast. You are to have mercy and give support to not only your neighbor, but also to your enemy returning his ox if it goes astray, bringing reconciliation between man and man and man and God.
What has all this to do with the temple or salt? Different types of sacrifices were made in the temple. Anyone could bring a sacrifice, even pagans because accesss to God is open to all men. His spirit was created within all men when Adam was created. The principle animals for sacrifices are: bullocks, rams, goats and turtledoves. The very poor may bring a handful of flour. The word sacrifice is korban, meaning "to come close" indicating the relationship between man and God. To sacrifice something indicates the willingness to give the best. Wiith God there is a always provision for everyone. There is always a way to approach God.
Sacrifice was not only an expiation for sins, but thanksgiving to God. In the opening of Genesis, Cain and Abel bring gifts, but Cain's is not pleasing to God. Why? Is it because Abel brought a sheep and Cain had only grain? No. One explanation is that Abel gave from his hear with his best; but Cain did things routinely wihout much personal dedication. He made no special effort. Similarly, in the temple worship, there was the option for the poor to bring a handful of flour for a sacrifice. The Levites treated it with the same respect as a bull or ram., salting all sacrifices for ritual purification, drawing the blood out from the meat.
What is Jesus talking about? Why close the passage with the two references, Leviticus 2:13 and Proverbs 20-27, "The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord, searching the inward parts of the belly."
Sacrifices in the temple were required twice a year, during Pesach and Sukkot. The rest of the time, the temple was not the center of worship for the average Joe -- particularly not in Jesus' time-- as it was under Greek and Roman political influence and corruption. Where is the center of religion and what is the temple of God, other than the human body and mind? During the Exile, monotheism spread, emphasising individual worship and study. The person, his life becomes the temple of God. It is through the light of each man, we are able to find God. How can religious identity be maintained in a society that is dispersed? This was the question of the Dalai Lama when he invited a rabbinical delegation for dialogue.
The response? Your table becomes the altar of God and your life is the sacrifice with your good deeds, the salt. Therefore, we make our tables God's altars whenever we sit down to eat, sharing his wealth with each other and we thank him, recognizing our personal limitations and dependency on his providence by saying,
Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, for your goodness nourishes the world with favor, kind love and mercy. You give food to all living things because your love is always with us. Out of your great goodness, you never let us lack for food, and may us never lack in the future. For your name's sake, never allow us to suffer want, but you are the God who provides for all things wait upon thee and when you open your hand, they are filled with good.