Rebel - Week 3: Millstones, Necks & Hacked Off Limbs
This week we are continuing the sermon series for the month of September, a series entitled Rebel. Following Jesus isn’t easy. It was never meant to be. The Way of Christ sometimes demands a radical countercultural and even rebellious kind of sacrificial love.
42 “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. 43 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.  [a] 45 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.  [b] 47 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, 48 where“‘the worms that eat them do not die,and the fire is not quenched.’[c]49 Everyone will be salted with fire.50 “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.”
Before we dig into this passage, let me give you a bit of context to this particular conversation. This comes on the heels of two different things that the disciples bring to the table in their conversations with Jesus.
First, they want to find out from Jesus which one of them is going to be in charge when he takes over the world. They're jockeying for position, trying to make sure that they have a spot secured in order to be important, rule over others, etc.
Second, they see a guy casting out demons in the name of Jesus and he isn't part of their crew.
Seemingly, this passage here is a response of sorts to all of those shenanigans.
So what is Jesus really saying here? Does he really mean all of this? Millstones around the neck and then tossed into the sea? Cutting off limbs... plucking out eyes?
When I was a kid, I was taught this was all about sin... It's not.
Jesus was merely musing metaphors of the day, but they were grounded in a harsh reality. The Romans had recently executed some Galileans who had revolted by putting millstones around their necks and tossing them into the sea. And they were also known for maiming people they questioned.
But Jesus uses a term that is quite unusual, Skandalon, which we interpret as "stumbling block" because that's the best way to describe what he's trying to say. Jesus says that if you cause one of these "little ones" to stumble, you're in for it.
This word has a deeper meaning, though. It's not just about tripping someone up. It's about the kind of danger that can be done by someone who refuses to acknowledge their position of privilege and who chips away at the faith of those who are vulnerable.
The "Little Ones" refer to those who are vulnerable, dehumanized, outside the status quo. Jesus does not waffle in this. He's like "You have one job!"
While we're here... Let me illuminate things a bit about HELL, which isn't really the word "hell" but rather then word Gehenna, which is the proper Hebrew name. Gehenna was the garbage dump outside of the walls of Jerusalem. Fire. Maggots. Child Sacrifice.
Jesus is drawing from familiar texts that many of his hearers would have brought to mind, a cheery verse that the prophet uses to describe Israel's enemies, captors, persecutors:
24 “And they will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.”
I know it sounds pretty awful, but this is the Hebrew Scriptures version of what happens to you when you neglect your one job.
Then there is this whole "Salted with fire" which feels a little like a mixed metaphor... because it is. But Jesus is making a point here that is very important. He wants to make it clear that there is something important and transformative about doing your one job.
And this strange mixed metaphor uses two elements that speak of purification and preservation, of light and taste... In other words Jesus is saying the world around you is affected by you... so make sure you are doing everything you can to do your one job... no matter what it takes... no matter what it costs.
This passage teaches us that:
When the very things we hold dear and believe lead to abundant life become obstacles to others--it can get destructive. We need to let them go.
If your hand offends you... if you hand keeps you from being the true you... if your hand keeps you from doing your one job... let it go.
If your eye... If your foot...
It would be better for you to be diminished, humbled, halting, vulnerable... and to do your one job, than to be strong, whole, complete, confident, self-reliant and fail to Love God and Love Everybody because you're too busy loving yourself.
So how do we figure this out?
1. Identify the vulnerable in our midst---to have awareness of who they are, what are their needs, why are they marginalized...
2. Be honest about how are actions are affecting their "faith" -- this will necessitate repentance on our part.
3. Get rid of whatever we need to get rid of in order to foster abundance for all -- this may require sacrifice.
Don't make eye contact. Don't say anything. Don't do anything.
We aren't meant to live like this... with blinders on. We have one job.