By Ed Little
A Reading from the Gospel of Mark 9:42-50
42 “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. 43If 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. 45And 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. 47And 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, 48where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
49 “For everyone will be salted with fire. 50Salt 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.”
“You know why I don’t go to church?” a relative once asked me. Before I could answer his question, he said, “I’ll tell you why I don’t go. You Christians are a bunch of hypocrites. You worship God on Sunday, and stab one another in the back the rest of the week.” Scary words, these; scary, but all too often true.
Discipleship is serious business. If we get it wrong — if our words and deeds don’t match up, if our actions cause another person to reject Jesus — we not only endanger others; our own soul is in peril. Jesus makes this painful point as he instructs his disciples on the dangers of their apostolic calling. “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me,” he tells them, “it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.” He goes on, in an almost comically exaggerated way, to urge his disciples to cut off their hands or feet or to pluck out their eyes rather than lapse into behavior that would destroy themselves or others.
In the Baptismal Covenant, Christians promise to “respect the dignity of every human being.” Jesus’ words in today’s reading put meat on those covenantal bones. Every interaction, within the Christian community or beyond it, has the potential of driving others away from Jesus or drawing them to him. The interaction may be as trivial as standing next to a stranger in a grocery line, as comforting as sitting next to a fellow Christian in a pew, or as fraught as debating a political opponent. But, C. S. Lewis says, “It is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit,” and then he adds: “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.” Jesus reminds us today to open our eyes.
The Rt. Rev. Edward S. Little II was bishop of Northern Indiana for 16 years after serving parishes in Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Joaquin. He is the author of three books; most recently: The Heart of a Leader: St. Paul as Mentor, Model, and Encourager (2020).
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
The Anglican Missionary District (Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil)
St. Michael’s by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, Carlsbad, Calif.