Mark 9:42-50 (NRSV)
Temptations to Sin
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. 43 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. 45 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. 47 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, 48 where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
49 “For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 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.”
For the last while some of my friends and I have been handing in masters theses. These are the paper manifestation of pain, panic, and procrastination, along with occasional flashes of confidence that we might have a clue what we’re talking about. One of the nicest parts of all this was sending out screenshots of our acknowledgement pages when we were done. This is the page where you get to step outside the facts and research, revert to the first person, have your wee Oscar moment and thank the humans who made the impossible possible. They thanked the ones who supplied a “constant current of encouragement”, the “women who lift my head and heart daily”, the parents who provided microfinance, the supervisors who “embodied graciousness and patience in the process”, the boyfriends who took the brunt of bad days, and made late night deliveries of prayers and other nourishment. The joy comes from knowing that we had shared moments of messaging at 4am, taking turns to deal out hope when the other’s supply was dipping and that they had gone and done something great. When we are invested in other people’s successes then we get way more days of real celebration, and the drive to get there doesn’t have to become a selfish one.
This passage made me wonder what it would be like if people did the same on their worst days, shouting from the rooftops about the people who got us there, acknowledging when we cause each other to stumble.
Up in court for the first time? Deliver a short video message to the youth worker who said you weren’t a good fit for their group, for the security guard who called you scum, for the older girl in school who slagged your knock-off Nikes.
Suspended from school in your first month? Dedicated to the teacher who said while she thought you weren’t listening, that you were just like your brother, so your brain decided to prove her right.
Just broke up with your boyfriend, again? Post a pic and shout-out to the parents who modelled a relationship characterised by anger and controlling silence.
End up in treatment for substance addiction? Give a nice little speech about the guy who sold you your first gram, when you were too young to know better, to the friends who stopped texting, to the doctor who left you with a few leaflets and not much hope.
What would it look like to take responsibility for people’s bad days as much as for their best?
Jesus weaves this strong call for collective responsibility with a call to make use of individual agency too, basically calling for us to cut out the things from our lives that are not doing us any good, and does so in the most intense of language — which tends to suggest he really means it. If your Twitter causes you to sin, deactivate it.
Salt was used to seal ancient deals, and so when he when Jesus talks about salt, the people who heard it first, knew he was talking about something serious; a covenant between people, something that in its purest form could last forever. “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.” Have salt among yourselves, I love it; it makes me want to dish out salt promises at the next get together with my friends, but they’d probably find that real weird.
Promises are awful things on the days that you want to give up, and on the days you’d rather not take responsibility for the mess that characterises our own lives and others, when you feel more than justified in your anger. Brother Roger, the founder of the ecumenical community at Taize, believed community was a parable, a symbolic sign that God is love and love alone. If I believe in this unity, then I have to believe in forgiveness, I have to believe in responsibility, I have to believe that other’s good days are mine and their bad ones too. Salt is also used for purification, for preserving. When we live lives bound by promises, it preserves what is beautiful, and maybe through that osmosis, draws out a little of the muck that often invades human relationships.
May your dreams never make you selfish, may your celebrations be many, may your relationships be salty.
Emily is currently working part-time as a youth worker in Kilkenny alongside studying for her Masters in Community and Youth Work. She is passionate about tag rugby, proper conversations, dancing, poetry, public transport as a lifestyle choice and seeing people and ideas come together.