Life of Christ 93
Late in the last summer of His life, Jesus and His Apostles have recently returned from a weeklong trip north of Galilee. On arriving back in Capernaum, Peter shot his mouth off about Jesus paying the Temple tax so Jesus had to bail him out of that one. Immediately after that, Jesus confronts the Apostles about a private argument they were having over who would be the greatest in the Kingdom. Our story today is the next portion of the same continuing conversation (Mark 9.38-50).
This passage tend to be confusing, and so I want to take the time to carefully establish the context and content of what Jesus is saying here, and then in the next post I will give you two very important applications.
We must remember that, at this point, Jesus is spending the majority of His time and focus on preparing the Apostles to lead the infant Church after He is gone. In the past few posts, during the week up north in the mountains, we've seen Him seek to teach them the importance of prayer, strengthen their faith in Himself via the Transfiguration, teach them in the first sermon in the Church that spiritual maturity is the crucified life, and that the Church should be established on the doctrinal basis of a belief in Himself.
Now, with His arrival back in Capernaum, He begins a different set of emphases, largely dealing with how people should relate to each other in the Church. In doing so, earlier in the day, He has emphasized that we shouldn't give offense, and that we ought not strive, in ambition, for greatness, but that we ought to be humble, like little children. He does this, yet again, now later in the same conversation, albeit from a different angle. Because of this context, I think the entire point of the whole conversation is found in the last verse. 'Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another' (Mark 9.50).
If I can paraphrase, Jesus is saying here, 'I want you to keep the peace between yourselves. Do not make it a priority to stand on your rights. Instead, be careful not to give offense. Don't jockey for position; be humble. Be at peace one with another.'
The specific issue that causes this part of the conversation was John bringing up another group of Christians. This group was not part of the crowd around the Apostles, (they were perhaps the remnant of the now martyred John the Baptist's group), but at the same time they did believe in Christ and were doing good things in His name (Mark 9.38). John told them to stop doing those good works since they weren't part of the 'official' group directly around Christ, and he then wanted Jesus' approval of his actions.
Jesus, of course, tells John the complete opposite. 'But Jesus said, Forbid him not' (Mark 9.39). Jesus tells John that even if all the other group could do was give away a cup of cold water in His own name then that was ok (Mark 9.39-41). The main point was not what this group did or didn't do exactly like Jesus' group, but that they genuinely believed in and preached Jesus.
He then speaks, again, about the importance of not offending (Mark 9.42), and follows that by urging on them the importance of this issue, telling them to do whatever they needed to do in order to keep from offending (Mark 9.43-48). This section of the passage is often used, and not inappropriately, in sermons about hell, but that is not His primary point in context here. Rather He is instructing His Church to be as quick to stop an offense from spreading as you would be to amputate a diseased limb that threatens your life.
Then follows what seems, at first glance, to be a total non sequitur. 'For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt' (Mark 9.49). In actuality, it flows very well from the previous thoughts and emphases. The Talmud tells us that every Jewish sacrifice offered at the Temple was salted prior to being offered, and that actually the wood with which the sacrifice was offered was also salted. Scripture confirms this in Leviticus 2.13 and Ezekiel 43.24. Now this, obviously, wasn't for taste reasons. No, this was because salt represented the incorruptible, the pure.
What He is telling the Apostles, in the context of the conversation, at the very end, was that if they wanted to keep the purity of the Church intact, and if they wanted to preserve it over the long term, they needed to focus on their own flaws instead of others' flaws, and thus keep the peace among the brethren. 'For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt. Salt is good: but if the salt have lost its saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another' (Mark 9.49-50).