Salt and Fire

These verses always intrigued me, Mark 9:42-50:
“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they 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 with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where
“‘the worms that eat them do not die,
    and the fire is not quenched.’
"Everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”
I always imagined how many people over the ages have cut off hands and gouged their eyes in response to this verse -- kind of morbid, I know... The NIV footnotes say it's hyperbole, but what if it isn't? Sometimes it is difficult to determine which Jesus' words are figurative and what is to be taken literally. In this case, I think it's worthwhile to consider both.

As I read through this recently, I felt like God had something hidden here, something I hadn't noticed before. I asked what it was and he pointed out that the little ones "believe" in him. They are believers. Their sins have been covered by Jesus' blood. So why is it still so important that they no longer sin? I mean, of course sin separates us from God, which is important; but is it so important that it would be better to drown in the sea with a broken neck than to have made them sin, though their eternal destination is secure? Maybe our connection to God on this earth is more important than we realize. After all, part of our job to usher in his kingdom here.

And why did he use the millstone in the sea metaphor? The sea to the Jews back then was a symbol of hell (according to a teaching I heard from Ray Vander Laan), so why is it better for them to go to hell on earth than hell in eternity? Maybe this just emphasizes the horror of eternal hell, or possibly provided a visual example of the consequences of sin to Jesus' listeners.

Capernaum, where this passage was spoken.

And then there's that cryptic last verse about the salt. I have two thoughts: first, fire is temptation we all face. If we all maintain the humility to approach sin carefully, we can "be at peace with each other," because everyone is then in the same sinking boat and all need a savior. But what if fire is the fear of hell? Or the reality of facing hell? How does that bring us to peace with each other? Perhaps it is another great equalizer, again requiring the humility to recognize our collective and personal need. It is hard to have an ego when everyone is facing the same judgement.

I usually like to write these blog posts with a nice summary of what I want to say, but sometimes I don't quite have it figured out. That's okay I think, because now you can ask yourself the same questions and maybe come up with some answers -- if so, please write them in the comments below!

Whatever Jesus is saying here, the obvious point is true: take sin seriously. Let it affect you. Lament and repent, and then rejoice that we serve a God who took steps to take away that which separated us from him. And in our humble response to such a savior, may we be united, which is one of the most important things Christians can be.

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