Wednesday, May 30th. Mark 9:42-50

‘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.’

Mark 9:42-50


“Deterrence” is the idea that people will do the right thing if they are afraid of the consequences of doing the wrong thing.  Generally speaking, among most people, it seems like deterrence works…because it works for them.  What then seems utterly baffling are those for whom deterrence has no effect.


Clearly there is an element of deterrence in these verses for today.  Punishment by bodily mutilation is an ancient practice, far more common in the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi than in the laws of Moses.  Certainly far more common in the sharia law practiced (intermittedly at best) in some Moslem majority countries.  We have heard, for example, that theft is a very rare occurrence in a country where the penalty is cutting off a hand.


Is that what Jesus means?


If we are to take these verses literally then I wouldn’t be writing this morning.  Instead, what would be left of me (after cutting off both hands, both feet, and removing both eyes) would be tied to a millstone, feeding the extraordinarily well fed fish on the bottom of theGulf of Mexico.


But what happens when we take them seriously?  Suddenly we realize that all of our focus has jumped to the penalties even as we barely notice the good that Jesus is after.


In very severe language, Jesus warns against doing damage to, or putting a stumbling block before, one of these “little ones who believe in me.”  That might mean those who are new to the faith or it might literally mean children (who were politically powerless and physically vulnerable.)


Maybe, instead of tying ourselves up in pretzels arguing about modern literal interpretations of ancient biblical laws, we would do far better to ask ourselves, “Is this practice/belief/tradition good and helpful for children or new believers?  Or does it somehow do damage to them, become a stumbling block to their faith in Jesus?”


Let us pray:  Dear Lord, these verses have long bothered us.  We don’t know exactly what to make of such horrific passages.  But we have to confess, even now, that we are far more concerned about the penalties than the rest.  Taking good care of those new to faith, of the children in our midst, seems to be what really matters to you.  May we be diligent in removing barriers, making space, setting good examples, and taking time to teach.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.


One Response to “Wednesday, May 30th. Mark 9:42-50”

  1. Mary G Says:

    I was just deciding whether or not to lead the devotion at Krause Center & opened today’s devotion. This would not be one to share with those beautiful children! (tongue firmly in cheek) But, if anyone has a devotion that reaches out to the spiritually deprived, feel free to email me.

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