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Mark 9:3350comment (0)

January 21, 2010

By Cecil Taylor

Related Scripture: Mark 9:3350

Explore the Bible
Dean, School of Christian Studies, University of Mobile

Mark 9:33–50

Controversy Over Greatness (33–37)

When He and His band arrived at “the house” (perhaps Peter’s) in Capernaum, Jesus asked the Twelve what they had argued about on the way. They never gave a direct answer because they had debated about which of them was the greatest. Of course, He already knew that. So Jesus called them together for a heart-to-heart talk. He began with a principle: “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” To illustrate the principle, Jesus stood a child in the middle of the group and added, “Whoever receives one of these little children in my name receives me … and the One who sent me.” In the ancient world, children, like women, did not count.
True greatness is based not on status but on service to people who “do not count.” To serve such a person is to serve Christ and the Father who sent Him.

Strange Exorcist (38–41)
John broke in with a question, prompted by Jesus’ teaching that whoever does good deeds in His name pleases both the Father and the Son. The Twelve had seen a man casting out demons in Jesus’ name and tried to stop him “because he was not following us.” Rather than not being a disciple of Jesus at all, the man seems not to have been one of the Twelve Jesus sent to do this kind of work. 

Jesus called for tolerance toward all who minister in His name. “Stop hindering him.” Jesus said it is impossible for anyone actually doing supernatural deeds in the name of, i.e., on the authority of, Jesus to be opposed to Him. Indeed Jesus promised reward for all who cared for His disciples by casting in their lot with them. Receiving Jesus’ disciples entailed receiving their message about Christ and thus meant receiving Christ Himself. Jesus’ rebuke of narrowness applies today when partisanship often overtops loyalty to Christ.

Collection of Sayings (42–50)
Because these sayings cover such a variety of topics, it is likely Jesus spoke them on several occasions and Mark strung them together by linking key words in them. The common idea of “causes to sin” connects verses 42–43, 45 and 47. “Hell” in verse 47 suggests “fire” in verse 48. “Fire” ties 9:48 to 9:49. And “salt” brings together the three separate sayings in 9:49–50. Such verbal links seem curiously artificial to modern readers, but this practice was not uncommon in the first century (cf James 1), and it surely made it much easier to learn large blocks of material by heart.

Jesus called for drastic action to avoid causing a “little one,” i.e., another disciple, to sin. A millstone was not the stone used in a hand mill (Matt. 24:41) but the huge grinding stone turned by a donkey. To be thrown into the sea with such a weight inevitably led to death.

A man’s own hand, foot or eye could lead him to sin. The hand stands for things one does, the foot for places one goes and the eye for things one sees. Each can bring the whole man down to perdition. “Cut it off … cut it off … pluck it out” surely is figurative. Jesus called for drastic action but short of self-mutilation. No one rids himself or herself of sin by cutting off body parts. “Hell” here is Gehenna, originally the Valley of Hinnom south of Jerusalem that served as the trash dump for the city. Fires burned trash constantly and maggots worked the garbage. For the Jews, including Jesus, Gehenna was the technical term for the hell of fire, eternal punishment. It is striking that the strongest teaching on eternal punishment in the whole New Testament appeared in the so-called “simple teaching” of the gentle Galilean. Jesus said more about hell than any other person in the New Testament. One cannot repudiate hell without altogether repudiating Jesus Christ.

“Fire” connects verse 49 to the previous verse. Perhaps “everyone will be salted with fire” means suffering tribulation purifies the disciples. “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again” links to salt in the previous verse. It probably means a disciple who becomes corrupt and loses his or her sharpness becomes useless. The salt of the gospel makes for peace by purifying bickering disciples (50b).

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