Inner circles and salt

Mark 9.38-50 John said to him, ‘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 afterwards 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.

Mark describes how the disciples come to Jesus one day to 'tell tales.' They tell their rabbi that some people are ministering in his name, people they do not know. These people are not part of Jesus' inner circle.

Should Jesus be concerned about this?
No, of course not.

The disciples are effectively limiting the inclusiveness of Jesus.

The disciples are misunderstanding; seeing enemies where there are no enemies. There are others ministering in Jesus' name and this is okay, they are for us, not against us, they might not be like us but they are us, they are a part of the body and, of course, St Paul expands on this image of the unity of the body and how all parts of the body are essential for the health of the whole.

Jesus wants the disciples to understand that our greatest enemies are not outside, beyond, other than ourselves, our enemies are our issues within.

It is what comes from within, Jesus has told us, that can destroy, not what comes from without.

We are being taught by Jesus that we are not to worry too much about measuring or assessing the ministry or lives of others. We are instead to concentrate on what it is Jesus is requiring of each of us, not what he might be requiring of our neighbour. Our neighbours will each serve God in ways that are unique to them, there are as many callings as there are people.

Like Paul after him, Jesus talks about the body as he spends time with his disciples, because he wants them to understand how this body – this unity of all members, all ligaments, all parts – this harmony of 'all aspects allowing for the other' is essential to health.

This is why then with hyperbole he talks about how it really would be better to remove an offending part than lose the whole body. There are sometimes attitudes that need to go in order for the whole to remain healthy.

This is why he can talk about taking care about not putting stumbling blocks in the way of the little ones, and in the Greek the word is scandalising – we are not to set perimeter walls that are too high for people to climb, we are not to ask people to fulfil their life in Christ in a particular way in order for it to be recognised by a human audience – only God will judge.

It is God and not these disciples who is to judge the lives and ministries of these 'others.' Those here about whom the disciples are concerned and towards whom they direct Jesus' attention are not against them. They are likely for them, says Jesus, or, in other words, 'Forget about them and concentrate instead on your own journey with God.' 

In order to finally sharpen the disciples' minds again Jesus puts before them an ordinary referent: salt – a condiment essential medically for bringing healing, a condiment essential also for preserving, for preserving food. 

Jesus wants the disciples to understand that it is their own holiness to which they should attend before they turn their assessments outwards. 

They need to ask God to preserve what he has placed in them, it is this faith, this call, this task to which each has been called that must not become stale. It will stale if attention is focussed on setting up competition and rivalry with imaginary others. Their misplaced but very human desire to keep their group pure from outside influence is brought sharply home as Jesus focusses their attention on their own purity. They are to not lose their saltiness, their distinctiveness: mined salt from the Dead Sea in Jesus' day would deteriorate eventually, lose its flavour and become worthless. 

We are reminded as Christians, then, by this passage that we “are the salt of the earth" (Matthew 5:13).” If we cease to share the gospel of Jesus Christ by which we impart God’s preserving salt to others, we will become effectively useless to God. 

As is characteristic of Jesus, he requires us each to consider our own lives before we consider, before we scrutinise, the lives of others. It is then that we will be far better placed to live at peace with one another. 

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A little background reading so we might mutually flourish when there are different opinions