30 Aug Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 26th, 2021
Holy Gospel: Mark 9:38-50
How much is the Kingdom of Heaven worth to you, to me?, to us? Pretty difficult question to answer, isn’t it?
Jesus puts it in pretty graphic and concrete terms in the Gospel reading today. “Better to lose a body part than to lose the Kingdom of Heaven.” In our Reading today from Mark, Jesus starts out by admonishing the disciples that have come to him to tattle on someone…. They come to Jesus like an affronted child on the playground coming to their parent… “Hey Jesus! There is some new kid here that is doing the same stuff we are doing in your name but he is NOT in our club! Make him stop!” Jesus however basically tells the disciples that the new kid isn’t doing anything wrong and goes on to tell them that they should not do anything to prevent the new kid from doing his own thing because he is doing God’s work. The new kid is clearly on their side, whether the kid is officially on the team or not. (If they are not against us, then they are for us!)
He then goes even further and tells the disciples that they should not put a stumbling block in the way of any of these “little ones” as they are also believers. But then Jesus gets kind of gross and starts talking about losing Body parts. In Matthew’s account of this incident, Jesus says that his followers should take these extreme measures to avoid committing sins but here, in Mark, Jesus says that his followers – which WOULD include us here today – should take extreme measures to avoid causing OTHERS to stumble. It does change the perspective a bit, doesn’t it?
After all, does the thief plot less to steal the diamond because they have lost the hand with which to snatch it from the jeweler’s window? Does the thug become a saint if the foot they used to kick their victim is removed? The hand or the foot are not the real offender here and trying to avoid sin or avoid causing others to stumble (or sin) by removing body parts is sort of like trying to make a little child good by keeping them confined in a closet.
The reading closes out with Jesus telling his disciples to stick together with all the believers using the analogy of the salt. “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its saltiness, then how can you season it?” In other words, once salt is no longer salty, it can not be made to be salty again – it loses its value, its’ worth, so Jesus tells his disciples to have salt within themselves – to hold fast to their faith – and to hold fast, to be at peace, with one another.
Like every other human being, Jesus used words to hint at meanings which the words themselves can never quite fully convey and every attempt at communication between one person and another must always rely on a translation from the language of the lips or pen to that of the heart and mind. Jesus called his disciples “the salt of the earth” but no one thought that they should be used as seasoning at the neighborhood Barbeque. He called them “the light of the world” but no one ever considered trying to make them into lamps for their home…. And when Jesus spoke of plucking out the offending eye or cutting off the tempting hand or foot, he most certainly did not have acts involving knives or gouges in mind.
Jesus is preparing his disciples for what lies ahead, for the time when they are going to have to carry on his mission without him. He is telling them to look for, to accept, and to be supportive of whatever help that they receive because whoever does something for the company of believers because of their faith will be rewarded. That includes those “new kids” that may not belong to the “inner circle.”
How are we having salt within ourselves in our daily lives here at CtK? How can we show support to one another and to others as they set about doing good works in the name of Christ? James, in our reading today gives us a couple of possible ways. James tells us that when we pray in faith, as a community and as individual members of the body of Christ, we can work wonders, we can have an impact. The Prayer of faith will save the sick. The Prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. Prayer is a powerful way that we can hold fast to that inner salt, that we can hold fast to that faith that binds us together.
James goes even further and tells us to <gasp!> talk to one another, pray for one another, confess our shortcomings to one another and, by doing that, we too can be healed! It may not be easy and, in fact, sometimes it is downright hard or uncomfortable to open our hearts, to bare our souls to another person. Sometimes, we may not feel the obligation or responsibility to the other, much as the disciples didn’t feel the obligation or responsibility to the “new kid.”
We may not have a level of relationship with the individual that will allow us comfortably to engage with them on a level of intimacy that permits a glimpse inside their heart and, my siblings in Christ, talking about faith IS intimate! It transcends the normal “social” boundaries that we have been taught in our lives, but since when does Jesus expect us to always be “comfortable?” Faith is not always comfortable. But James tells us that this level of intimacy is not only a good thing, it is powerful , it is healing and restoring. Jesus had an intimate, loving relationship his disciples and has that same intimate loving relationship with us as followers of Christ. For me, that intimate relationship is worth the kingdom of heaven because it is what BRINGS us to the kingdom of heaven.
This love, this intimate relationship with God is where true freedom and grace is found – or joy, or love, or divine power – and it is one of the meanings of this commandment of Jesus – that the blessings of the good life, the life in Christ, are glorious beyond our fondest dreams. God’s relationship with us, through Christ is so filled with wonder and gladness that a hand, or a foot, or even an eye, is not too high a price to pay for them. It is God’s strength and love that provides US with the strength and love to live into a Christ-like life both inside our community and in our lives in general. We are invited then, encouraged, even dare I say commanded to share that loving relationship with our fellow humans. By doing that, we, like the disciples, will have salt within ourselves and be at peace with one another…. “And they will know we are Christians by our love.”
Holy Gospel: Mark 9:38-50
John said to Jesus, “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 to 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.”