The Gospel text for this Sunday [Mark 9:38-50] has two verses at the end that are unique to this gospel account: ‘For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltines, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another (ESV).’
What is Jesus talking about?
Well … he is talking about salt, fire, and peace. Just previously he was talking about the unquenchable fire of hell (see verses 47-8). But he seems to be transitioning to a different type of fire, since EVERYONE is going to be salted with this fire.
Your bible may have a footnote that says, ‘Some manuscripts add and every sacrifice will be salted with salt. Is Jesus also talking about sacrifice? The list seems to be getting longer.
Metzger’s Textual Commentary (p. 87) provides the following helpful comment: ‘At a very early period a scribe, having found in Lv 2.13 a clue to the meaning of Jesus’ enigmatic statement, wrote the Old Testament passage in the margin of his copy of Mark.’
By the way, Leviticus 2:13 reads this way: ‘You shall season all your grain offerings with salt. You shall not let the salt of the covenant with your God be missing from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.’
We usually do not think of salt as being connected to the covenant. So, you may want to add that to the list as well.
The last two words which were added to the list, sacrifice and covenant, are huge within the Old Testament and should, therefore, also be huge within the New. And they are—since the focus is on Jesus and what he did.
Jesus does not talk about salt a lot; he does not talk about fire a lot; he does not even talk about peace a lot. But in this part of the Gospel according to Mark, he is talking about his sacrifice—although he does not use that term.
Each gospel account makes its transition to Jesus’ journey to the cross in different ways. The way Jesus has been described, he has been slowly separating himself from his disciples. They cannot keep the covenant. They cannot make an acceptable sacrifice to God. Jesus can. Jesus will.
With all the persecution going on in the early history of the Church, those Christians may have felt as though they were being sacrificed. In times of great stress, there is dissention and difficulty. Sinful people can focus too much on the problems or too much on themselves.
These words of Jesus are about God keeping his covenantal promise, that the seed of Eve would have his heel bruised—but would crush Satan’s head (see Genesis 3). God words do what they say. They are not so much a powerful thing; they are more of a loving thing. Jesus took care of all the important stuff.
We are at peace with one another when we look to those words. Those words connect us to both God and others. And that is a nice place to be—despite the troubles that will trouble us for just a little while longer.
This is the Sunday of the 150th anniversary celebration at St. John Lutheran Church in Drake, Missouri, and there are specific texts to be read on the Sunday of the anniversary of a congregation.
Having recently read the history of the congregation—and, also, having quite recently written up a brief history of that congregation—I have come to appreciate very much when people get along well with each other.
That happens to be the way that things are going in both congregations I am currently serving, and I am very appreciative of that. But there are times in the past 150 years when that has NOT happened. And there are congregations in that current situation today.
So, it is almost encouraging that arguments are described within the first three gospel accounts in similar, yet slightly different ways. If things are important in the life of Jesus, they are mentioned at least three times.
The regular Gospel text for this Sunday [Mark 9:30-37] describes an argument that the disciples were having amongst themselves. In fact, the text for the previous Sunday had a description of another argument; that time it was between the disciples and the scribes (9:14).
The disciples were arguing as to who was the greatest. I thought it would be interesting to lay out how each of these very similar gospel accounts gives a different perspective to this topic.
In the Gospel according to Matthew, there is, to my knowledge, no mention of the disciples arguing as to which of them was the greatest. But it is certainly interesting that, at the beginning of the fourth sermon (or discourse), the question is asked of Jesus by his disciples, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:1)?’ That was essentially the issue being argued in the Gospel according to Mark.
It is in the fourth book of the Old Testament, the book of Numbers, that the children of Israel must deal with themselves and others, after they leave Mount Sinai, and so, in this fourth sermon, this topic of how to deal with others is laid out as well. God’s children WILL have some disagreements.
But instead of focusing on the arguments, one option is to go to Jesus. You can ask him to clarify, to teach regarding the issue.
In the Gospel according to Mark, there is basically the opposite reaction. The disciples, unfortunately, were arguing amongst themselves as to who was the greatest. And, when they got into the house with Jesus, they were silent (9:33f).
That is often the reality of how things go. You may think that silence is infrequent in our day and age, but when there are no worthy, biblically based solutions presented to a problem, that is essentially silence.
Some important arguments are not getting resolved. That is unfortunate. The key, again, is to listen to Jesus; we are to remain silent. He wants the important issues discussed, and his words are a good starting point.
In the Gospel according to Luke (9:46ff), the same event is described, but it is described in a slightly different way. The word that is attached to the argument is the same word that one would use for entering a house. The use of the word here is appropriate because Jesus is entering an important part of the gospel account, that of his heading to Jerusalem, to accomplish what he was sent to do.
This account helps to remind us that arguments start for a purpose, sometimes for a very important purpose. If Jesus is about to leave, because he would be ‘delivered into the hands of men (9:44),’ then it IS an important issue as to who would be the greatest—the leader—after Jesus leaves.
Hopefully this has been a helpful perspective regarding both arguments and Jesus.
The Gospel text for this Sunday [Mark 9:14-29] deals with Jesus and another unclean spirit. Last Sunday an optional part of the text was the healing of the Gentile woman’s daughter; she also had an ‘unclean spirit’. There is talk of demons later in this gospel account, but the ‘unclean spirit’ will not be mentioned again.
It is important to note that this is a difficult spirit to cast out, even though the title of ‘unclean spirit’ does not seem too troublesome (and the father is even more positive by only calling it a ‘spirit that makes him mute’). The disciples previously had some success in casting out demons (see Matthew 6:13), but not this one.
The disciples even ask Jesus why they could not cast it out. In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus says it is because they had little faith (Matthew 17:20). In the Gospel according to Mark, Jesus says that these only come out by prayer (Mark 9:29). I think that both are interesting responses; and both are interconnected.
There are a lot of interesting responses at the end of many sections in this gospel account; and they are usually interconnected as well. The most famous is probably the very end of the account, where the women leave the tomb and do not say anything to anyone. But we are to connect that ending with the endings of the other accounts; it is in those accounts that this important story cannot help but spread. [And if the Gospel according to Mark is to be the last of the four accounts, then it was to have its longer ending—Mark 16:9-20.]
Christians can feel as though they HAVE TO pray. They can also feel as though they GET TO pray. At the heart of that is faith in a gracious God.
Those Christians can also feel as though God can ‘move mountains’ (see Matthew 17:20)—but not to ‘show off’ of course. If the mountains of the earth need moving to show God’s love, he will certainly move them (see Matthew 27:51).
Are there different levels of unclean spirits? At least there were at the time when Jesus was on earth. They may have all learned their lessons shortly after that, that there is no need to leave unless the Son of God is involved—and invoked.
Were the disciples disappointed that they had not thought of praying? The text does not say. Either way, the disciples continue to fade into the background—along with the unclean spirits. And Jesus continues to come to the foreground. And he brings his Spirit (see Mark 13:11).
The Gospel text for this Sunday [Mark 7:31-37] has a ‘wonderful’ word that a person could talk (or write) about for a long time. It is wonderful because it supports the point that sometimes a word in one language does not easily translate into another language.
It is the word that is translated ‘sighed’ in our text (verse 34). In the New Testament it only appears five other times (2 Corinthians 5:2 and 4, Hebrews 13:17, Romans 8:23, and James 5:9). In the first four places, the word is translated as ‘groan’. In the passage from James, it is translated as ‘grumble’.
It is certainly difficult to see Jesus groaning or, especially, grumbling. The definition in the dictionary [BDAG, page 942] is long—and hopefully helpful: ‘to express oneself involuntarily in the face of an undesirable circumstance.’ And the passage in James is connected to the following, significantly shorter definition: ‘to express discontent’.
It is also difficult to describe Jesus as ‘expressing discontent’. That is probably why, in some ancient manuscripts, another similar word was substituted, and the word simply means to ‘sigh deeply’. It is used in Mark 8:12. Jesus’ enemies were looking for a sign from Jesus, and, after he sighs deeply, he tells them that no sign will be given them.
There could also be a connection to the somewhat well-known other option of Mark 1:41. After the leper comes to Jesus and says, ‘If you will, you can make me clean’, in some manuscripts, Jesus’ response is to get angry! The context of the chapter is very helpful there; in the previous verses, Jesus was very much showing his willingness to heal and to help, and for someone NOT to get that is significant!
The dictionary has the following note regarding this passage in Mark 7: ‘In connection with a healing, probably as an expression of power ready to act.’ I think another emphasis is possible. Perhaps it would be best to think of this situation in Mark 7 as a reaction to an ‘undesirable circumstance’.
The perspective of the Gospel according to Mark is very similar to a battle. Who, in their right mind, would like a battle? Something extremely important must be at stake. Jesus is in the midst of a big one for all mankind.
The four gospel accounts do not simply compare to four reporters who were sent to a big fire, and they came up with three similar accounts (Matthew-Luke) and one significantly different account (John). They were like four reporters who were sent to a fire and were specifically told to focus on four different, important things. And Mark was told to picture the event as a battle. And his ‘living creature’ is the lion.
If you are interested, the word was used somewhat recently in Maccabees a couple of times (1 Maccabees 1:26 and 4 Maccabees 9:21). Both have a fighting context.
Jesus keeps fighting, all the way to the cross.
You might say that the Gospel text for this Sunday [Mark 7:14-23] gets to the heart of the matter.
How is your heart? Current culture is falling into two equally dangerous traps. The more obvious trap is to say that the heart is a good thing. The subtler one is that the answer to that question depends on what that heart has been fed.
That is the old nature vs. nurture alternative. It is okay to have that discussion when people understand that human nature is inherently ‘sinful and unclean’. But when there is a positive view of human nature (‘There’s a little bit of good inside of everybody’), then some serious problems can occur—and some serious misunderstandings of both good and evil.
Some of this nation’s founding fathers had a more optimistic view of human nature than the Lutherans typically had. And the theology of the Pilgrims may be traced back to John Calvin (1509-1564), who was not as strong as Martin Luther regarding the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper—and therefore would not have needed as strong a Savior.
A new edition of Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation just came out, and some people do not like it because it is so long. If we were inherently good, it would not need to be very long at all! There are a HUGE number of evil alternatives.
One alternative that does not seem so bad, at least initially, is to look inward. How is your heart?
Some people hear that question and think about how they are currently feeling. I would advise against that strategy. I would suggest hearing what God’s word has to say about what is inside us.
Jesus, in the text for today, says that ‘…evil things come from within…(Mark 7:23).’ All too often we do not want to admit that. But Jesus says what is true. I would suggest clinging to his words. That is what God’s messenger will advise the women after Jesus’ resurrection (Mark 16:7b).
How is your heart? I just visited someone today who quite recently had major bypass surgery. Thankfully, we did not talk too much about the condition of the heart. At the heart of a more important matter is Jesus and his reconciliation.
In Mark 7, Jesus is already headed for the cross. And he is about to leave the people around him and us (perhaps just for a little while) in the dust….