"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, cut 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 desire 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. If your hand causes you to sin, cut 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.'" We have to take this statement in the context of yesterday's reading. Jesus has taught the disciples about "greatness" and what it means, in response to their own disputes about who would be greatest in His kingdom. Their primary care is that of the little ones -- those who come in faith to Christ. They are in their care, and in the face of the simple and humble faithful the disciples are to see not only Christ, but also the Father. Here His tone turns very stern as He issues a warning -- three times reiterating a quotation from Isaiah (Isaiah 66:24) in order to emphasize the dangers to their own lives in the Kingdom should they fail in this mission. The primary concern is the care of the "little ones," and in that service all sacrifices are to be made for their good. To cut off a hand is to give up what can lead to abuse of position: covetousness, for instance, the desire for wealth, exploitation and stealing from these faithful. No matter what personal character trait one must give up -- even if it feels like cutting off a hand -- that will be far better than the results of harming the little ones. The foot that would cause one to sin can be seen as a symbol for leading oneself (and others) astray, wandering from the path that Christ has set out. The eye that causes one to sin can be another kind of covetousness, of envy, of a glance that is predatory rather than caring, objectifying as commodity rather than seeing Christ. There are many ways in which power and authority can be abused. Jesus is telling them that their authority and greatness rests on their good care of the little ones. This is the harshest warning possible about the results of any form of exploitation, false teaching, leading astray. To cause the little ones to stumble is to create brokenness, put obstacles in the way to their faith, harm their spiritual welfare. We can think of many ways in which that can happen at the hands of those who are supposed to be caring for the souls of the humble and those in need of spiritual care. The only true answer is for humility in those who would be great -- to the point of casting off their own weaknesses and temptations, no matter what it takes. Their own self-sacrifice is necessary to save themselves.
"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." To be seasoned with fire is to be tested; this is a promise Jesus gives for everyone. My study bible says that this testing is to see if one's faith and works are genuine (see also 1 Corinthians 3:11-15). Salt was a symbol of covenant, and Jesus is quoting here from Leviticus 2:13. Sacrifice, challenge, even a test of fire -- none of this is to be made for any other purpose except to strengthen covenant between Christ and His faithful. Salt is the covenant that binds believers and their shepherds together, even believers from different flocks (as stated by Jesus in yesterday's reading, above). Those faithful who receive even a cup of water and thereby assure reward, and those who offer in the name of Christ, do so in covenant by faith in Christ. It's by this fact that if they have salt in themselves, they must have peace with one another. Christ is that peace. For salt to lose its flavor (a possibility in ancient sources of salt, in which the "salty" component of the seasoning could be lost through exposure to moisture) would imply metaphorically that a true commitment to covenant was lacking.
Jesus is the communion that glues the faithful together. In yesterday's reading, He spoke about those who were not part of the same group with the disciples, but were casting out demons in His name. It is faith "in His name" that becomes the binding agent of covenant, that links us all together. We extend a cup of water to another "in His name" -- because of faith in Christ. Those who receive who bear Christ in their hearts also convey a blessing on the giver. Here Jesus tells the disciples they must be prepared for sacrifices, to let go of everything within themselves that interferes with the proper care of the little ones in whom they must see not only Christ Himself, but also the Father. This is done for covenant, for the tie that binds all, Christ Himself. Every sacrifice is done with a purpose, for covenant, to strengthen the communion in Christ. Jesus calls for sacrifice -- especially self-sacrifice on the part of those who will lead, those who would be "greatest" in the Kingdom. Every temptation for abuse of power must be sacrificed, any tendency that gets in the way of nurturing and caring for the "little ones" -- humble believers who come to them in faith. This is the only way to honor and cement covenant, and He is that covenant. So the real question becomes "How do we truly honor Christ?" He is the mediator and covenant between all of our relationships, particularly in how we treat each other. By honoring Him, His covenant, He also creates our peace with one another. So what is greatness in His kingdom? It is being able to care and nurture for all who come to Him. You never know who that might include; Christ's teachings are for all of us. In everything we do, He is the negotiator, the mediator. This must be our awareness in every encounter.