Mark 9: 38-50
John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”
But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you 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 to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.
And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear 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 their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
Wow! I’m not pulling any softballs from the gospel readings yet. These passages are part of the lectionary, which like TV programming, pre-set for our reading and learning together. The United Methodist Church follows a lectionary, each week we have one Psalm, one reading from the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament, one Epistle (think Paul’s letters), and one passage from a gospel text (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). The lectionary texts are listed in the church newsletter each month, and there are several resources on the internet, if you’d like a preview before you get to church.
The past few weeks, we have been reading Mark, and this will continue for a while.
So, here we are in the midst of Jesus’ teachings. We have two mini-stories within this reading today. We don’t know who the disciples saw casting out demons, but Jesus is not overly concerned about it. They are doing this work in His name, and he says “whoever is not against us is for us.” Jesus tells his disciples that they have more important things to learn, and ultimately that caring for one another is a part of ministry, including being cared for. He continues that “whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.” It’s quite alright to love each other and care for each other in the name of Christ.
Jesus continues to teach his disciples, and has much harsher words in the second story. He uses metaphors of stumbling blocks and millstones, both of which are huge, immovable items. And he has warnings for the disciples. Don’t get in the way of children’s belief in me. Don’t abuse your power that you have as a follower. For should you do that, it would be better to drown with a millstone hung around your neck. To understand what Jesus means by this, you must visualize a millstone that is a giant material made from heavy, dense rock. As I consider what this may have been like, I think of something as big as a china cabinet that is solid.
Jesus tells the disciples that parts of their body can cause abuse toward children, and specifies eyes, and hands and feet. Scholars believe there are also euphemisms in this story and that it is about physical and sexual abuse, and that Jesus spoke so harshly against it that the disciples could feel they have been warned.
This is God’s word for us to live a just life. The warnings and teachings from Jesus are meant for us too, as we are also disciples. Not to be taken lightly.
Jesus seems to understand that this message would leave people feeling sick to their stomachs. But I’m glad Jesus spoke out against abuse. The church is not immune to issues of power and abuse, and so we must be aware and committed to keeping children and people who are vulnerable safe.
Pope Francis visited the United States this past week. On his final day here, he met with survivors of sexual abuse, promising accountability. He offered a message of reconciliation and a strong warning to the church, including a powerful warning to American bishops accused of covering up pedophile priests instead of reporting them to police. Not all of those he met with suffered abuse under clergy, but some of the survivors had been victimized by family members and educators.
And, we need to be aware that people who have been abused carry those narratives with them for the rest of their lives. For many people, living as a survivor of abuse is so isolating and silent. Just this week, the Flathead Beacon carried a story about a lack of CPS workers and the ripple effects that the communities here face by abuse. We are called to pray for healing and comforting ministries.
This is key to bringing heaven to Earth.
Jesus ends this teaching with the metaphors of salt. Salt was used as a preservative and flavor enhancer then, just as it is today. Jesus says, “Everyone will be salted with fire.” I am sure this was the number one googled search this morning. In His days, salt was set to fire among cooking stones to increase their heat. Jesus says, “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it?” The salt they use in that region is collected from dry sea beds. Some of the salt is useful and good, and some has lost its umph and become powdery, not flavorful, and perhaps very hard to light. So, He tells the disciples to be the salt, just right, enough to preserve goodness within, so that they may be at peace with one another.
This is the Good News! The goodness within each and every one of us can be preserved and flavorful, and an element of great use for the world around us so that the work of the Holy Spirit can be present in our activities and ministries to the world. And when we are lightly salted, we can be at peace with one another.