Psalm 123 • Exodus 5:1 – 6:1 • 1 Corinthians 14:20-40 • Mark 9:42-50
Undoubtedly, these readings leave much to consider—if for no other reason than they occasionally do not make very much sense. (Side note: if 1 Cor. 14:34-35 infuriated you, please note that they were likely added by some unscrupulous people far after Paul penned his letter.)
Mark especially has many interpretations. Some scholars reasoned that Jesus was castigating sexual abuse of children and multiple forms of sexual dalliance. This did not seem the case to me; rather, the central point of this passage, I believe, regards distractions—things that get in the way of our relationship with God and Jesus. For Pharaoh, this was not knowing the Lord—a fault which caused him to ultimately unleash the Plagues. For Paul’s Corinthians, they were arguing among themselves about whether or not speaking in tongues was the most valuable spiritual gift. The disciples, before this passage, argued about who was the greatest among them—and not far enough away that Jesus did not pick up on it.
Distractions are sins; distracting someone was causing them to sin. Jesus gives as clear as a solution as a warning of not following it: remove those distractions from your life, an especially appropriate message in this season of fasting. If TV gets in the way of your relationship with God, sell it; if coffee or wine impedes it, stop drinking them; if church obscures it, reform the church. Paul’s Corinthians loved to speak in tongues for the perceived importance, but as Paul told them, tongues are useless without an interpretation because the community goes unedified, their minds distracted, and any nonbeliever who walks in will think them crazy as a hoot owl. The community suffers—the church suffers—because the members have lost the very thing that gave them purpose and meaning, like salt that somehow goes salt-less: the relationship with God through Christ.
This relationship was never going to be easy. We will be “salted with fire”—purified and preserved, as with salt, through the trials—trials we may from time to time fail—of a life following Christ. But if we can carry Christ in our hearts and refuse to suffer distractions, if we “have salt among ourselves,” then we are well on our way to earning the Kingdom of Heaven.
— Adam Lees