“Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”
“Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.
“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 around 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.”
Mark 9:38-50 NIV
At first glance, there may seem to be multiple messages here. One says whoever is not against us is for us. Another says don’t cause these little ones to stumble. A third says it’s better to enter heaven maimed than to enter hell whole. Another says salt is worthless when it loses its flavor.
But all this is part of a bigger story, and one that starts before today’s scripture. The chapter starts with Peter, James and John witnessing the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain. Then, Jesus has to cast out a demon because the disciples can’t do it. They argue about who’s going to be the greatest in heaven.
Then we come to today’s passage. John says they tried to stop someone from driving out demons in Jesus’ name because he wasn’t with them. This is the same John who had seen the transfiguration, the same John who argued about who would be the greatest, the same John who couldn’t cast out a demon without Jesus’ help. So you can imagine how he felt when someone who wasn’t even traveling with them was able to cast out a demon when he could not.
These are not story fragments; they are one continuous story. So it matters that Jesus goes immediately into the admonition not to cause one of these little ones to sin. Is this just any cause and any sin? Maybe, but it certainly includes the sin of trying to stop someone who is trying to serve God through faith in Jesus just because that person is not in our church or in lock step with our doctrine. Jesus is not the one who drives people out of our churches. What drives young people out of our churches is the internal fighting that pits one Christian against another. People are turned off to the church by how we put down other churches and other believers.
Jesus often went over-the-top to make his point. Better to lose a hand, foot or eye than to be cast into the fire. The hand is what you do; better to stop doing it. The foot is where you go; better to stop going there. The eye is what you observe; better to stop watching.
The disciples had been asking about what would their reward be for following Jesus. Here, Jesus is not talking about reward, but sacrifice. What are we willing to give up to follow Jesus? How are we willing to change? Whoever does not take up his cross … those who lose their lives will save them … anyone who loves mother, father, son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me … in so many ways, Jesus tells us that our pursuit of God in Jesus Christ must be our top priority.
How are we willing to change? We should start with those things that offend these little ones. Am I willing to give up on my hard opinions, to lose the fight in order to keep the peace? Or does my pride make me insist on my doctrine no matter what it does to people? Whoever causes one of these little ones to sin would be better off with a millstone around his neck.
Jesus said everyone will be salted with fire. Is that the fire of suffering, or the fire of the Holy Spirit? Maybe it’s both. But everyone is not the same as all. It doesn’t say all of us, the church at large, will be salted with fire. It says that everyone, each person individually, will be salted. We will each be tested by God. We are so afraid to let others be wrong or to let them disagree with us. But like Jesus said, whoever is not against us is for us.
Jesus talked about salt as the gospel, that a little an season a lot of food, but it has to taste like salt. The Gospel has to act like the gospel, or it’s just so many words to fight about. A gospel that does not love is not the Gospel. A gospel that does not forgive is not the Gospel. A gospel that does not draw people to Christ, or a gospel that drives people away, is not the Gospel. Those are examples of salt that has lost its saltiness.
“Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” Church, we live in hard and controversial times. There are a lot of hard opinions out there, and if we just pick sides, we’ll get thrown in with people whose opinions are a lot harder than ours. I’m not saying don’t have an opinion and don’t take a stand. But I am saying what Jesus is saying: “Be at peace with one another.” Jesus was serious when he said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” It might look like salt, and it might feel like salt, but if it isn’t salty, then it’s good for nothing. That’s true for salt, and it’s true for religion.
All this brings to mind Romans 12:9-14:
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Each one of us will be salted with fire. Each one of us will stand before the judgment seat. Sound doctrine is important only insofar as it leads us to make disciples and love one another. Anything else only looks like salt.
Everyone will be salted by fire. If that’s the fire of suffering, then remember that Jesus is saying that the question is not what reward will we get for following him, but what are we willing to sacrifice? If it’s the fire of the Holy Spirit, then who am I to judge someone else’s work if they follow Jesus and love others?
I think it’s both, the fire of suffering and the fire of the Holy Spirit. Jesus has been talking about both. The disciples could not drive out the demon because, as Jesus said, “This kind comes out only by prayer and fasting.” Fasting – the sacrifice we are willing to make. Prayer – the time we spend with God. They couldn’t drive out the demon because they had not spent enough time with God; they were not committed enough to rely solely on God. Then, they tried to stop someone who had done the work and made the sacrifice.
I pray we will not be guilty of causing these little ones to sin. Let’s make sure our salt is salty, and let’s have peace among us.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.