"But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to sin, but it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched -- where
'Their worm does not dieAnd if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched -- where
And the fire is not quenched.'
'Their worm does not dieAnd if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire -- where
And the fire is not quenched.'
'Their worm does not die
And the fire is not quenched.'
"For everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt. Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another."
- Mark 9:42-50
Yesterday, we read that Jesus and the disciples passed through Galilee, and He did not want anyone to know it. For He taught His disciples and said to them, "The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And after He is killed, He will rise the third day." But they did not understand this saying, and were afraid to ask Him. Then He came to Capernaum. And when He was in the house He asked them, "What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?" But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest. And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all." Then He took a little child and set him in the midst of them. And when He had taken him in His arms, He said to them, "Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me." Now John answered Him, saying, "Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us." But Jesus said, "Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is on our side. For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you belong to Christ, assuredly I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward."
"But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea." My study bible tells us that "little ones" include all those with childlike humility and simplicity, all who are poor in spirit. Jesus has just finished telling them that if they are to receive one of the "littlest ones" in His name, they receive not only Christ but also the Father who sent Him. Here is the flipside: if they are to abuse power and lead one of the "little ones" astray, they face the greatest condemnation. It's a continuation of teaching on rank, hierarchy, and power in the Church. What constitutes real authority and how does that authority conduct itself? The greatest among them should be the servants of all; the "little ones" -- that is, the humble -- are in their care and look to them for the kind of leadership that Jesus Himself exemplifies.
"If your hand causes you to sin, but it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched -- where 'Their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.' And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched -- where 'Their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.' And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire -- where 'Their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.'" Here is a command for self-discipline among the leadership. A hand symbolizes things one does -- hence, "if a hand causes you to sin, cut it off." That is, habits and preoccupations that will, in effect, lead the little ones astray, must be dealt with and cast aside. Abusive behavior is one possible example. A foot can symbolize the places one walks, the places we go: if a foot causes one of them to sin -- a habit of going where one shouldn't go -- it must be cast out. An eye falls on things it may covet or desire; if it causes sin, it must go. These are strong admonitions about the discipline to prefer true authority and leadership in Jesus' model of service to any habit, any personal choice or inclination, a habit of temper perhaps, or whatever it is that causes sin and hence bad leadership in His model of service. Humility must pave the way for the ability to "cut off from oneself," so to speak, habits, desires, inclinations, temperament that hinders one's capacity for Jesus' form of leadership in His Church, any form of abuse of the care of the "little ones" who are not powerful but who are entrusted to them. My study bible suggests the metaphoric "cutting away" of hand, feet, or eye also refers to harmful relationships that must be severed for the salvation of all parties (see Luke 14:26, 1 Corinthians 5:5). The repeated quotation is from Isaiah 66:24.
"For everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt. Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another." My study bible says that being seasoned with fire means "being tested to see if one's faith and works are genuine" (see 1 Corinthians 3:11-15). When Jesus tells us that every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt, He's quoting Leviticus 2:13, in which salt stands for the remembrance of God's covenant with His people. They're not to dispute over who is the greatest (which began this discussion in yesterday's reading (see above), but to remember their covenant with Him, and have peace with one another.
I once explored the question of how salt can lose its flavor, and came to understand that natural sources of salt are comprised of other compounds in addition to sodium chloride (NaCl) which is what makes salt "salty." In fact, tasting salt from different sources around the world gives us different flavor profiles. How salt can "lose its flavor" is through moisture: NaCl is easily water soluble. If moisture gets into the salt somehow what can remain as "salt" might be everything but the saltiness. So, how does this metaphor apply to who we are? If salt is a reminder of covenant, then we come to understand that what's best in us is that which sticks to this covenant, this loyalty and pact with Christ. He calls us to be humble enough to cast off bad habits and attitudes that interfere with the way He asks us to conduct ourselves as His disciples. How do we treat the little ones? Do we abuse power? As "ambassadors for His Kingdom," how do we behave in His name? If people come to us for guidance, do we see them as servants to us, or are we servants to them? Do we receive them as if we're receiving Christ, or even the Father who sent Him? These are powerful and almost extraordinary questions, if we're going to think about them the way that they are put to us by Christ in these passages. Early manuscripts might suggest to us that there's only one reference to the passsage from Isaiah, but the triple emphasis here in the final "Book of the Church" teaches us something important, to pay attention, that our own lives and souls depend on it. It's a warning in the strongest terms to those who would lead His Church. Let's think of the ways that "little ones" (that is, people without much standing or rank, anyone who comes without much authority but rather turning to the Church for its care and guidance) can be led astray by bad leadership. If you ask me, leadership isn't only restricted to those hierarchs such as bishops, for example, who do follow in the place of these apostles. Leadership is required, in some sense, of all of us. These teachings apply to any of us who may be in a position to teach others what God's love is about, what Christ's teachings are all about. As we who call ourselves His followers, it's up to us to set the example that He asks of us in covenant as well. There's an important reason why humility remains the highest virtue in Christian teaching. It really does take humility to cast off bad habits, or things that get in the way of our own good leadership. It takes humility to serve Christ's commands. Authority can't be entrusted to the hands of someone who is not "seasoned" enough to know what it means to be a good steward to the precious things entrusted to his or her care, and not for his or her own self-aggrandizement or exploitation! Let us have salt in ourselves and cast off the things that take away from its saltiness! This is where discipline practices come in, the ability to cast away that which gets in the way of the more important picture of service in Christ's Church, in covenant with Him, where our own "egos" and preferences take second place. It's a teaching about casting off our own flaws of arrogance or self-inflation, our desire for "place." If you think about it, this is a clear continuation of Jesus' teaching that we each must take up our own cross, and that "whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it." See Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. Today He teaches more fully what it meas to "deny oneself" and to follow Him.