Rev’d Stan Pilbrow
Mark has always been my favourite of the gospels; hard hitting, to the point. Jesus is decisive and wastes very little time on his journey to the cross.
The gospel of Mark was written for Roman consumption so much of the detail seen in gospels like Mathew is left out. Long drawn out commentaries about the birth, about growing up were of no interest to the Roman audience. It’s like the difference between a big budget movie and a TV production. One is lavish the other is produced on a much smaller scale.
This being the case, the ministry of Jesus begins very early on in the gospel. Chap 1:3 we are confronted by John saying, “Prepare a pathway for the Lord’s coming! Make a straight road for him.” Then Jesus is there…being baptised and his early ministry begins.
In a very short period before making his way south to Jerusalem, much has occurred in the Gospel of Mark; Jesus has been baptised, tempted by Satan, and recruited his crew, his disciples. He is also working amongst the people exercising his desire to serve. We see Jesus preaching, performing exorcisms, healing people and holding powerful discussions about a range of subjects including fasting, the Sabbath, marriage and divorce.
Jesus sends out his disciples on their mission. He will feed 5000 and walk on water. And, as we get to our reading, Jesus will predict his own death. In Mark 8:31 he goes into quite some detail and repeats himself in Mark 9:30. So, this is the context as we get to Mark 9:38 – 50.
John is concerned that a man is using the name of Jesus when casting out demons. John is alarmed and apprehensive that this person is not one of ‘the in crowd.’ Jesus exclaims, “Let him be! Don’t stop him!” Do not cause this person, or people doing work in the Lord’s name to stumble.
I was looking through a couple of commentaries in relation to our reading. They use the words, ‘stumbling block’ as a key phrase. They note that Jesus is concerned the disciples or others will cause followers of Christ to falter or stumble. He takes these phenomena so seriously he states that anyone who causes someone that trusts in him to lose faith would be better thrown into the sea with a millstone around their neck.
I’ve seen a number of examples of millstones from the small domestic stone wheel that can be turned by hand to grind corn, or other grains to the very large industrial wheels that have to be turned by animals. Anyone of these around ones neck would be pretty terminal. The message here is that Jesus doesn’t want us to be stumbling blocks, to be the cause of people stumbling.
Other references emphasise this. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, Chp 14:13 he says, “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore but rather determine this – not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a person’s way.” In 1 John 2:10 we note, “Anyone who loves his brother is living in the light and does not cause anyone to stumble.”
And yet we do this so unwittingly at times…by what we do, and say to others…by our actions and questionable habits. A whole lot of years ago, I found out that the biggest stumbling block to my son’s early development was my attitude – it was so negative. I seemed to be intent on bursting his bubble at every opportunity. Whenever he had a success, I would be the wet blanket, “…to keep him grounded.” It was when he started high school that a guidance counsellor talked to me about being supportive and positive, acknowledging success and his efforts at home and at school. When I sat my son down to apologise for my behaviour, he was so embarrassed. He was not used to this father.
So how are we to ensure that we are not obstacles to one another? In Chap 9 of Mark, Jesus tells us to be Salt! Jesus states that salt is good. Many of us will remember the days before household refrigeration – when we used safes to keep milk and meat cool and away from the insects. We were visited by the milkman, butcher and baker in their little vehicles. We also valued salt and the many uses it had in the house.
When I was young my mother had a pet pig. It followed her everywhere. Every morning when mum went down to the beach, the pig went with her. It would sit on the beach and wait for her if she was fishing or foraging. My mother talked to this pig and it would grunt in reply. About September my father mentioned at the lunch table that, “It was about time we got the pig ready for Christmas.” My mother was not amused. “You are not killing that pig!” she said through gritted teeth. My sisters started to cry. Mum left the table, not amused. Eventually, my dad came up with a compromise. We would take our pig back to my Uncle Eric’s piggery where it came from originally. We would then swap the pigs and kill one of the others for Christmas. Everyone was in agreement. On the appointed day dad and I loaded the pig on the tray of our tractor and after a tearful farewell we set off for Uncle Eric’s farm. Just before we got to the piggery, my father shot the pig. Waiting for us was Uncle Eric with a pulley to lift the carcass and a drum of boiling water to clean and dress it. We took the meat home with assurances that our pig was ‘safe and sound, enjoying the company of the other pigs.’
We used a lot of salt that year. We had ham, smoked salted pork belly for bacon, pickled pork and beautiful brawn. Not to mention other cuts of meat that lasted us through the summer.
In the bible there are so many references to salt and its uses. It was used as a sign of fidelity and friendship. In small amounts it was used as fertiliser. It was also used for purification, cleansing and preservation. In Mathew 5:13 it states that we are the, “…salt of the earth!”
So, will we be stumbling blocks or salt? Will we be use-less or use-ful? I invite you to give this some thought today…Amen.