READINGS: Numbers 11:4–6, 10–16, 24–29 Psalm 104: 27-35 James 5: 13–20 Mark 9:38–50
The Lord’s concern in response to the disciples’ question about the man casting out demons in Christ’s Name is like Moses’ response about Eldad and Medad receiving the Holy Spirit outside the Tent of Meeting: Would that all people be prophets and the Lord’s Spirit be upon them! The Lord’s will is all people to be saved in the sheer gift of Himself to know Him and love Him and love our neighbors aright.
“As a true servant of God, who was not jealous for his own honor, but desired only the extension of God’s influence and power, Moses wished only for a further extension of the Lord’s gift of grace. A little more of this same Spirit in our days would help to solve many of the problems of the Church.” (From The Popular Commentary (1924), by Dr. Paul Kretzmann, Lutheran Pastor and Scholar)
The Lord’s solution of political problems is not pastors, ministers and priests offering political solutions to people who suffer from the spiritual problem of sin. The Lord’s solution is salvation in teaching and preaching Christ, His Cross, His resurrection and ascension, His Word of Law and Promise. Not a pope nor a president telling us pollution is bad, or abortion for that matter, but God’s Word and teaching thus sayeth the Lord from the Bible. The greatest apostolic ministry is not first casting out demons, that is, rare, but receiving a cup of water because, beloved in the Lord, “you belong to Christ”. You belong to Christ. This means the person giving the cup of water to one of Jesus’ own, is beginning to believe through the grace of God in, through and with His Son Jesus Christ and that is quite a reward.
The one who has given the apostle a cup of cold water because He belongs to Christ, one of the little ones, like the child Jesus enfolded into His arms, and so Jesus is clear: the greatest sin is to cause him or her believing in Christ to sin. So solemnly in a three-fold repetition
If your hand causes you to sin …
If your foot causes you to sin …
If you your eye causes you to sin…
“Causes you to sin” in Greek is root of our word scandal, which was something that causes you to stumble, into sin. Now it is clear my hand does not think nor does the eye nor does the foot. Oh, my hand hit you, now hand apologize and cut it out. That’s an absurdity as is sin. Jesus knows what needs to be cut out. He already taught earlier in chapter 7 the defilement comes out of the heart: “evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, etc.”. Cut it out. Arduously keeping the Law of God will cut out some outward behaviors, which is good, but the heart condition remains. The Lord by His Law shows us the true source of the offense: the heart, that is, the will. He has cut out the blockages of sin and death and hell. He cut it out in His Body upon the Cross. Salt stings in order to preserve.
“Christ here mentions some other members that are very apt to offend, to commit sin, to lead others into sin. The law of sin is always active in our members. Here it is necessary that a person keep these members in subjection. For the Lord speaks figuratively and does not want to be understood, as Luther says, that He here advocates physical mutilation or dismemberment, since that would obviously not take the sin and the desire to sin out of the heart. It is the heart which must be controlled by the spirit of love toward Christ and our neighbor, in order that the hand, the foot, the eye do not perform that which sin desires them to do.” (From The Popular Commentary (1924), by Dr. Paul Kretzmann, Lutheran Pastor and Scholar)
Cutting it off is called confession, cutting it out to be healed in His forgiveness. His Word like a surgeon’s scalpel cuts to heal. “There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole; There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul.” The costly balm is Christ’ blood.
Churches have greatly watered down the Word of God to make it palatable for ourselves and the results have been disastrous, tolerating all sorts of sin, as in marriage, thus causing one of the little ones who believe in Christ to sin. Look at what the rampant sexual immorality of our time has cost children in divorce, abuse, pornography…and so let’s water down the saltiness of the Law of God which mean no repentance, no return to the Lord your God for He is merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Still: “There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole; There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul”.
Jesus is clear: the result is hell, where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched. We have watered down hell. Hell has been watered down for people who don’t believe it, but note that it is still in full force for someone I don’t like! Then the belief is quite strong! Hell is not merely fictional frightening children’s tale to scare, “…rather, they are true reason publicly proclaimed with a straightforward voice.” (St. Basil). Hell is where the stink of putrefying sin always feeds the worms, the maggots. Such is a world which harvests aborted infants’ body parts, commits genocide, beheads Christians and others, says nothing to “hooking-up”, or getting ahead at all costs using people is okay, its called being a “winner”. Hell is a Biblical doctrine. The Lord wants no one in hell, but all to be saved and come to the knowledge of Christ.
The list of ingredients on a food package always begin in descending order with ingredient that is the most and salt is not usually the main ingredient. In the Church, and proclaimed throughout the world, the main ingredient is the Name of Jesus Christ for us and our salvation. When salt becomes more important than the main ingredient then there are problems. When our theological solutions become more important than Christ our Lord, not interpreting truly the Scriptures, the Word of God, then men follow manmade doctrines such as the office of the pope, as the head of the church. He’s not, Christ is, as the Bible makes clear. During the Pope’s visit, they had a canonization Mass in D.C. As one reporter said, The pope made a new saint today. No, he did not, most emphatically, none of the 266 popes ever made a saint. The church does not make saints, Christ Jesus does. The saints in Christ are His baptized, His little ones, not the great ones. Salt does not make salt. The Lord does. You are the salt of the earth. Not you should be, you must be, you can be, or we’ll make you salt. You ARE. Not by your doing, nor your works, but by the gracious work and word of Jesus Christ, whose we are, is who we are.
The lesson ends with Jesus speaking of salt. He did this early, Matthew 5: Y’all are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost it’s saltiness what is it good, except to be thrown out and trampled on by men. Funny thing though: salt, sodium chloride, is quite the stable compound and does not lose it’s saltiness. 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. Leviticus 2: 13. The Lord’s covenant, His testaments, old and new endure as salt, stable. His promises fulfilled in Christ are there, His Word for us and for our salvation. The very Word wounded for our sin.
Salt is a cheap grocery item in our day, but not back in the time of Christ. Salty ocean water had to dry out and the salt gathered which could be filled with impurities. The impurities would dissipate the saltiness of salt and so salt loses is saltiness and becomes worthless. So does the impurities of false doctrine, and unrepentant sin.
“Where the salt loses its saltiness, and the Gospel is spoiled with doctrines of men, there the old Adam no longer can be spiced, there the worms will grow. But salt is sharp; therefore it is necessary to have patience and peace in the salt.” (Martin Luther)
And sayeth the Lord, “ You will be salted with fire: the fire of His Law and judgment, the fire of His mercy for sinners the fire of the Holy Spirit purging and renewing His Church; the fire of His love for you and our neighbors to know the peace of God surpassing human understanding. His Word is our salt, preserving and flavoring our lives, making us thirsty for the draught of His Baptism and His Word. The word “salary” comes from the Latin for “salt”. Roman soldiers received a stipend for salt. My Dad told me that in the army, part of the rations was a salt tablet because it was indispensable to stay alive and keep on going. His Word is the salt of the testament in Jesus. Have this salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another, the salt of the new and everlasting covenant in His Body and Blood. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.