Mark 9: 38-50John 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.I got to hear two sermons on this text - one at Candler and the other at church. Both were good, but both focused on the beginning of the text and its message of inclusion - not the latter part of the text and it's difficult message of self-correction.
‘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.’
My husband and I found the careful avoidance of the hellfire and self-mutilation unsatisfying. And I've been turning the passage over in my thoughts all week - trying to make sense of it. What's this bit about cutting off our limbs? What's this hellfire that's raging?
But then my sister called me the other day. She and I both have been known to get into trouble by being too blunt, too "honest," and entirely too quick-witted for our own good. This leads to a lot of words we later regret speaking. In a way, we sometimes feel out of control. She asked me for advice. Immediately the lectionary text popped into my mind. There it was - God's voice still speaking to me.
"Gretchen, we both need to just shut up more. There is nothing else to be said. Literally."
sin of prejudice that's been bothering me? Don't give voice to it. Shut up and listen. Even if you're still thinking it - just. shut. up.
Words are powerful. Prejudices, assumptions, ugliness, and hate grow when we give them voice. There is only one answer when we feel ourselves losing control of our tongues, hands, eyes, etc. For those of us with betraying tongues, this means stop talking. Cut out those words. Better to think ugly things and not say them. Better yet to not think them, but the first step away from sin is to stop sinful expression. Don't let hate enter incarnate into the world. You are the first line of defense for Love.
And that hellfire? That's raging every day around us. It's the hate that works its way into our world - out through our bodies. You know it. You see it. But don't go there. Don't be a part of that unquenchable fire. Don't feed that flame. If your hand betrays you as you raise it against another person - cut that hand off. If your eyes do not allow you to look past the color of your neighbor's skin - rip out your eye. And if that tongue tears others down, disgracing the image of God - well, I better just cut out that tongue of mine.
God, give me the strength to cut hate out of my body. Keep my tongue from betraying Love in this world.