Mark 9: 42 – 50 Causing to stumble
‘If anyone causes one of these little ones – those who believe in me – to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung round their neck and they were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where
“the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.”
Everyone will be salted with fire.
‘Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.’
* * *
It’s essential to take this passage in context. A couple of days ago we read:
“Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.’
He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.’ ” (Mark 9: 35 – 37)
Today’s passage is a part of this teaching, reinforcing and emphasising it.
“ ‘If anyone causes one of these little ones – those who believe in me – to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung round their neck and they were thrown into the sea.’ ”
Jesus, the Messiah, is firmly on the side of the weak and powerless. He is saying that to put an obstacle in the way of someone coming to faith is a dreadful thing to do. What sort of obstacle? Well, on an institutional level some churches have been implicated in child abuse. That has been a big obstacle for many. At a personal level, an individual who professes to be a Christian but who lives a loveless life would be an obstacle for those among whom they live.
Jesus makes the point as forcefully as he can. You should do absolutely everything in your power to avoid such a sin – cut off your hand, cut off your foot, pluck out an eye. This is obviously not meant to be taken literally – what good would these actions do? – but it paints the consequences of the sin vividly.
Think back now to the event that started this teaching. The disciples had failed to understand Jesus’ words about his forthcoming death. Instead, they had argued about which of them was the greatest. Jesus has been explaining that “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
The kingdom of heaven is not about power as we know it in this mortal world. It is about the power of love, the power of loving service.
To conclude his teaching, Jesus switches to a different metaphor, the metaphor of salt and fire.
“Everyone will be salted with fire” is referring to the Holy Spirit dwelling in them. The fire of the Holy Spirit will produce distinctive changes in a believer,
“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again?”
The changes wrought by the Holy Spirit, will – among other things – enable the disciples to live in a way that attracts people to Jesus. Their focus will no longer be on personal status but on the loving service of others, especially the weak.
“Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”
Jesus closes this teaching by telling the disciples to focus on the service of each other, and that way they will be at peace with each other.
Thank you for the example of Jesus, who loved humanity so much that he became human and lived a life of service and obedience. Please help us all to follow his example.
In Jesus’ name, Amen