April 2, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Mark 9:42-50.
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe [in me] to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life crippled than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna, where ‘their worm does not dies, and the fire is not quenched.’ Everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if salt becomes insipid, with what will you restore its flavor? Keep salt in yourselves and you will have peace with one another.”
This concludes a long and stern teaching to the disciples and, hence, to us. It began with verse 33 describing that the twelve had been arguing among themselves about which of them was the greatest. At other times they jostled among themselves for Jesus’ special favor. John and James, for example, wanted to be at either side of Jesus when he came into his glory or power. Yesterday we read that John was put out because someone who was not one of the twelve was exorcising demons in Jesus’ name.
Jesus was trying to get them to understand that their role was to be humble servants to the poor, the sinners, the lame and blind — the little ones, those who had the least claim to life in that hard land. Yet all of those who believed in Jesus, who followed his teachings as the way to the kingdom of heaven, to life, will receive their reward. Those who humbled themselves, who admitted and gave up their sins, would be the greatest in the kingdom of God. And woe to any one who thought of themselves as better than these little ones, who jockeyed for power and superior status, who led another to sin or to faithlessness. Those are the ones who put their relationship with God at risk, who faced the unquenchable fire. The fire of lust and selfish desire that can never be satisfied, that will forever haunt the soul and never let it rest in peace. It would be better if they lost a part of their own body. Jesus used horrible images to get his point across, to warn his disciples of the consequences of their attitudes and behavior.
God was more important than anything. By trusting in His love they could change themselves. But they had to understand that everyone was salted with fire. Everyone had been created by God to be good, to add flavor to life for all. Once salt has lost its flavor, its potency to preserve, it cannot be restored, brought back. That person who puts himself before God and others was utterly lost. By keeping salt in ourselves, by maintaining our relationship with God, by submersing our will in His, we will find peace with one another — and within ourselves.
Francis Moloney in The Gospel of Mark sums the whole tract well, “Jesus’ teaching in 9:35-50 is clear. Disciples are to be the least of all and the servants of all, like children themselves, receptive to the least of all, never judging anyone who works in the name of Jesus, never endangering the faith of even the most fragile. They are to be at peace with one another in the kingdom. Disciples open to this teaching receive Jesus and the one who sent him.”
That is our role as disciples. Jesus makes it clear as Barclay writes, “[I]f there is anything in our lives which is coming between us and a perfect obedience to the will of God, however much habit and custom may have made it part of our lives, it must be rooted out. The rooting out may be as painful as a surgical operation, it may seem like cutting out part of our own body, but if we are to know real life, real happiness and real peace it must go.”
There we have it. Stern, stark, and bleak as it may sound. I have to give up what I want, having my desires gratified, in order to be a servant to those around me. I can no longer be a card-carrying member of the “Me First” generation.