The 5th Tuesday in Lent
The Gospel reading for today and reflection:
Mark 9:42-50 (NRSV)
“Jesus said, “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.”
It is always important to read the preceding text when our lectionary provides these little bite-sized chunks of narrative. The text preceding today’s lectionary involves the disciples arguing still over who would be the greatest when the kingdom of God finally dawns, even after Jesus had told them that the greatest will be the least, the servant of all. Then there is this odd account of a Jewish exorcist driving out demons in the name of Jesus, but who was not part of the company of disciples. The disciples are outraged and want Jesus to stop the man, who is doing genuine good. Jesus, instead of agreeing with the disciples, tells them to leave the man alone. He is no pagan using sorcery. He is a faithful Jew who has heard of the power of the name of Jesus to bring deliverance and healing to others. Obviously, God is at work through this faithful Jewish man.
This is where today’s Gospel reading picks up. Jesus rebukes the disciples for trying to place stumbling blocks in the path of those who may he children in terms of their spiritual growth but who at the same time are children of the covenant that a god has with the Jewish people. We usually think this is about literal children, but the context shows that it is about spiritual pride, hubris, and feelings of superiority and priority over others simply because we have received greater enlightenment. Spiritual pride is deadly, especially when it leads us to look down on others, or attempt to shame them, upstage them, or shut them down from doing the good that they know to do. Jesus says it would be better to be drowned in the sea than to spiritually wound one of their fellow Jews, a member of the covenant, and quench their zeal for God and for helping others.
Instead, Jesus tells his disciples that they must be like salt to the people of Israel. And like I’m cooking, too much salt can be spoil a dish. Too much salt, applied inappropriately, can be caustic and cause burns. No, Jesus bids his disciples to be just the right amount of salt amongst their fellow Jews so that his name might become savored, desired amongst the people. And to extend the metaphor, when the disciples see someone applying the name of Jesus as something new to their spice rack, they should engage them with love and teach them about Jesus as their servant rather than running them out of the kitchen and telling them they have no right to apply the precious name of Jesus to bring healing and spiritual nourishment to others.
Beloved, let us not fall prey to spiritual pride by thinking ourselves more advanced in the Faith than others, or use our deeper understanding of Jesus to upstage others, or to dampen the enthusiasm of those new to the experience of the Faith by placing hurdles in their path too high to jump. Instead, let us be filled with the Spirit of Jesus, who though he was the perfect image and Cason ofcGod, made himself servant of all, living a life of perfect humility and loving kindness.