Commentary on Mark 9:41-50
Today the Gospel speaks of scandals. It is a much used word in our newspapers today and not always with the same meaning that we find in the Gospel. In the media it tends to refer to behaviour which we do not expect from certain classes of people. We read about it and we say, “How terrible! How wicked!” In the Gospel, however, scandals are stumbling blocks which impede our journey along Christ’s Way. If a president dilly-dallies with a young lady in his office that is scandalous in the media sense but it is not likely to affect the living out of my Christian faith.
The Way of Christ is expressed in love and compassion and, wherever that happens, the action is noted and rewarded. So anyone who gives a disciple even a drink of water, precisely because that person is known to be a follower of Christ, will not go unrewarded. That “anyone” is to be taken with full literalness. It could be a person of a completely different religion or of none. And one would hope that we would do exactly the same in return.
On the other hand, anyone who corrupts the beliefs of a simple believer is only fit for a fate worse than death. And that applies most of all to fellow believers who, by their actions, can be an obstacle to a person following Christ or coming to know Christ.
But, even within ourselves, there can be things in our lives which can block our living out of the Gospel message. A wandering hand may steal, may hurt, may sexually abuse; it would be better to be without a hand than to allow it to do such things. A wandering foot may bring us to places where we are corrupted or cause corruption to others. It would be better to be crippled than to be involved in such things. A wandering eye can result in our treating other people, however beautiful and attractive, as mere objects of desire and may lead to worse things. We can read books which may lead us to thoughts and actions harmful both to ourselves and others. There are many possibilities. Blindness would be a lesser evil.
Obviously, Jesus is not urging us to carry out such amputations literally. His point is to warn us of the many things which can be stumbling blocks in our Christian lives. Perhaps we could reflect a little today and try to enumerate the things that get between us and our following of Jesus.
“Everyone will be salted with fire.” To be salted is to be purified and kept from corruption. This can refer either to penalties by which a sinner is punished and at the same time preserved or to the purifying trials through which we are made more faithful followers. This is the kind of ‘amputation’ that can apply to those who have caused scandal.
This purification can happen through the trials which the Christian is likely to face in the faithful living out of the Gospel. But if the salt itself loses its taste, what can be used to give taste back to it? “Keep salt in your hearts and you will be at peace with one another.” Salt here seems to be the inner essence of the message of Jesus. That is certainly the key to peace in our own hearts and in our relationships with those around us. And if that salt is within us we are not likely to be a stumbling block to others looking for Christ and his Way.