As our reading in the book of Mark opens, Jesus decides to give His disciples a heads-up: he’s about to be betrayed and murdered.
Stop the presses! This right here should have caused a major stir. But Mark tells us that the disciples didn’t know what was going on, and they were afraid to ask questions.
These last couple of weeks I’ve been working with the new hire training class at my job, assisting the trainer with managing the full classroom, preparing worksheets and helping to look up examples for demonstrations, and answering questions when they’re working independently. At the end of each day, the trainer and I get together and discuss how the day went. The most common complaint from both of us has to do with just this same situation. Several of the newbies will get a little lost, fall behind, get confused, and are afraid to say “Hey, hold on a second, I’m confused, can you back up and explain that again?”
The problem is, when you’re learning new things, if you refuse to risk looking foolish by asking questions, you’re more likely to look foolish later for not having learned the material. It’s often said that the only stupid question is the one that is left unasked.
The disciples didn’t want to speak up and say “Hey, wait, what did you mean by that?” Their lack of understanding of who Jesus was and what He was trying to do was betrayed by the next few verses.
33They came to Capernaum. When he was safe at home, he asked them, “What were you discussing on the road?”
34The silence was deafening—they had been arguing with one another over who among them was greatest.
Talk about looking foolish. Their childish behavior prompted a bit of a lecture from Jesus about being willing to serve others — even the least important person imaginable, the weakest and most helpless, and least useful for their own advancement.
Right after that, we get another fine example of childishness: tattling on someone who wasn’t in their clique.
38John spoke up, “Teacher, we saw a man using your name to expel demons and we stopped him because he wasn’t in our group.”
Jesus’ answer to that is something that many Christians still need to learn: if someone isn’t a part of your clique, or your denomination, and they don’t agree with your every point of doctrine, if they’re doing Christ’s work and naming His name, they’re still an ally. God’s keeping track of who is a true believer — that is not our job.
And then Jesus used some rather blunt language to warn the disciples, in effect, that they were going to have to grow up.
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, 48where
“‘the worms that eat them do not die,
and the fire is not quenched.’[c]
49 Everyone will be salted with fire. (NIV)
This passage is all about taking responsibility. The first part is easy enough to understand. We are held responsible to protect those who are weaker — those who are literally children, or those who are newer believers who may easily be led astray or taken advantage of.
The second part of this section indicates that we are responsible to be vigilant in removing from our lives those things that threaten our relationship with God.
Cutting off a foot rather than being thrown into hell may be a bit of hyperbole, but sometimes drastic action is needed to keep yourself from drifting off course and becoming, at best, ineffective. Verse 50 in the NIV puts it this way: Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again?
Since we’re asking questions (so that we don’t look foolish later), here are a few to think about today:
- Am I still salty?
- Am I in danger of drifting off course? What action do I need to take to prevent that?
- Am I willing to serve those who can do nothing for me?