24 February 2011

Mark 9:41-49

"If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea." (v. 42)


There is a strong element of satirical exaggeration in these verses about avoiding the temptations of sin. Maybe there is a twinkle in Jesus' eye as he deliberately exaggerates the lengths to which one might go in order to demonstrate one's commitment to a God-centred way of life. His words are aimed at his gathered disciples, but can we also hear the giggling of a small child in their midst, enjoying Jesus' over-the-top examples?

But it's not such a far-fetched idea. The Gospel writer has previously described a scene in which Jesus, surrounded by his followers, placed a child centre-stage and used him to demonstrate the value that God places on the most vulnerable in society (Mark 9:36-37).

Now, just a few verses later, we may suppose that the child is still present and proving a continuing source of inspiration for Jesus' teaching. Ask for a drink, for example, and a child may bring you a cup of water. It is the simplest, least sophisticated of offerings, a child's gift, but a loyal Christian disciple should expect no more. Being a disciple carries no status and no high expectation.

In our mind's eye, Jesus also seems to connect the disciples to the child when he then delivers a severe warning against hindering the growth of faith. Jesus is referring to his immediate audience - but perhaps the Gospel writer Mark also wishes us to recall those not in Jesus' inner circle of whom he has recently said: "Whoever is not against us is for us" (Mark 9:40).

The little ones "who believe in me" (verse 42) are disciples of whom much will be demanded. They are required to value and protect their faith come what may. Nevertheless they are still "little ones", with all the implications of that phrase: Christ-followers who require guidance, explanations, necessary rebukes and love, and who should never forget their child-like dependence on God.

To Ponder

Who, or what, has caused you to stumble in your journey of faith?

How can we support those who want to explore their faith further but don't find 'church' an easy place to do that?

To what extent is it possible that church communities do as much to obstruct the exploration of faith as they do to encourage it?

Bible notes author

Laurence Wareing

Laurence Wareing is a Methodist local preacher and works as a freelance writer and media producer. He was editor of the Methodist publication Momentum from 2005 until 2010 and currently edits the website Singing the Faith Plus.