February 25-27, 2014
“And I tell you too, that the man who disturbs the faith of one of the humblest of those who believe in me would be better off if he were thrown into the sea with a great millstone hung round his neck!” Mark 9:42
This little section, this three-day walk home to Capernaum was pretty rough on the disciples and their preconceptions. Jesus was fleshing out what it means to lose your life and follow Him. “Fleshing out” as in what does this theory look like when you live and breathe it. Jesus is casting out a lot bigger net than the disciples felt comfortable with.
If any man wants to be first, he must be last and servant of all. All.
And I had always read this section as a great big to do list: work work work, sacrifice sacrifice sacrifice, chop chop chop.
And there is chopping. But not how I understood it. It is about completely releasing the self part about me. Release release release. It is all about the other. It is most certainly not about how pure and holy and whitewashed on the outside I can become. It is about serving. Sacrificing my safe, preconceived ideas about who is with me and who is not.
Chopping off those hands and plucking out those eyeballs.
For the man who is not against us is on our side. In fact, I assure you that the man who gives you a mere drink of water in my name, because you are followers of mine, will most certainly be rewarded.
Indeed, if it is your own hand that spoils your faith, you must cut it off.
John the beloved said, “Master, we saw somebody driving out evil spirits in your name, and we stopped him, for he is not one who follows us.”
But Jesus replied, “You must not stop him.”
Fleshing out this new definition of greatness, not like that old definition of the Pharisees who does the best, most carefully parsed version of the law, is about humility and service to preserve the peace, rather than dividing it through a desire to be great. And right.
Salt is a very good thing; but if it should lose its saltiness, what can you do to restore its flavour? You must have salt in yourselves, and live at peace with each other.
And the other time that Jesus talks about salt losing its flavor and being good for nothing and being cast underfoot, the part that I memorized when I memorized all of Matthew in the King James Version in middle school, isn’t about a big to do list of not coveting, not lying, not committing adultery. That is not a list that saves.
Jesus makes it very clear that this old list of righteousness is not going to cut it. Not even a tiny bit as he clarifies our understanding of murder and adultery, lest there be any doubt that we should be judging on outward appearance. I say unto you that unless your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.
Rather this saltiness stuff, this light on the hill stuff is about the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus redefines what a disciple looks like: Poor in spirit, merciful, peacemakers, persecuted. It’s a whole different list:
Ye have heard that it hath been said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’
But I say unto you that ye resist not evil, but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
And if any man will sue thee at the law and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.
And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him two.
Give to him that asketh thee; and from him that would borrow of thee, turn not thou away.
Ye have heard that it hath been said, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy.’
But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you,
that ye may be the children of your Father who is in Heaven. For He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
For if ye love them that love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same?
And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so?
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father who is in Heaven is perfect.
So this saltiness thing is a theme, how Jesus begins and ends his teaching the disciples as he heads into Jerusalem to destroy the power of sin once and for all. He is going to fulfill the Law and Prophets, because no matter how hard I work, work, work, sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice, chop, chop, chop, I cannot.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.
And this new to do list begins with a promise of blessing and happiness. Rather than death.
Turn not thou away.