Summary: What influences you and what kind of influence are you on others? In the final portion of Mark Chapter 9, Jesus describes a common substance: salt. It is either salty or flavorless. When it comes to you affect on your environment are you salt or unsalt?
Leading up to this portion of Mark 9, Jesus has taken a young child and put them into his arms. Somehow I picture him placing the child in front of Him and wrapping his arms around their front. The disciples can see both the child and the Messiah standing together. That stance of loving protection and submission is how we come into relationship with Jesus. The attitude of a child is one of simple dependence. We want to judge who is worthy of being counted a member of the club. Jesus is simply looking for a tender heart. Sometimes those of us who think we have arrived are further away than we think!
John (and his brother James) were a bit parochial. In Luke 9, when a Samaritan village refused to welcome them, the two asked Jesus if they should call down fire from heaven to destroy them. Boy, don’t cross the street in front of these guys! Here, John complains that someone outside the “in” group was doing kingdom work. It is kind of odd that this unnamed man is having success driving out demons when the disciples were not! This further shows the disciple’s misunderstanding of Jesus’ mission. In the previous account the men are arguing about who will be the greatest in the kingdom. Human nature is all about gaining power then keeping others from having it. Apparently, at least unconsciously, John felt that only they should have the ability to wield Jesus’ power. Can you image the scene: “demon, you get back in that man, this person doesn’t have the credentials to drive you out!” This illustrates another truth—that the name of Jesus holds the power, not the person using it. It’s not a magic incantation either. But Jesus’ name accompanied by trust in Jesus works miracles.
39 – 40
The truth is that if someone out of mercy helps another be freed from a demon through the power of Jesus, they are not going to turn around and tell people not to believe or trust in Jesus. In Matthew 12:30 the opposite statement is recorded: “He who is not with Me is against Me.” So which is it? Both, really. The point is that you are either for Jesus or against Him. You cannot be neutral.
In an illustration of His point on the man driving out demons, Jesus says that He approves of not only people doing good works in His name to others, but also those who perform an act of kindness to one who belongs to the Messiah. In the end what will matter is how you handled this person Jesus. Those who reach out to others in His name or help Christians, though they may themselves not be believers—will be rewarded. What does this mean? We can’t be sure but one possibility I’d suggest is that the heart attitude of these people draws them towards the Messiah. The idea isn’t to look for the reward, but when our heart reaches out with the character of Jesus, we draw closer to Him. I think this ties in well with the opposite – those which, through their behavior, push people away from knowing the Messiah.
Even as a simple act of kindness has with it great rewards, so too are there great punishments for those who prey on the young ones in the Lord. Children are trusting by nature—it is a sad day indeed when that trust is led into sin. “Downfall” means to trip up. Falling back into the default human programming of rivalry and power grabbing can do that exact thing—push a young one in the Lord who has just escaped the self-focused nature of humanity and into the kindly other-oriented spirit of the Messiah, back into the world’s model.
Jesus said it would be better for them to have a millstone placed around their neck and be thrown into the sea. Mark describes the giant millstone that an animal would drag around in a circle to crush grain. There would be no escape from death should such a stone be placed on our neck. But Jesus says it would be better for them to have than happen than to face the wrath of God.
So next Jesus gives us a series of examples of how important it is that we be freed from the basic human nature which is counter to the character of God and come into relationship with Him.
43 – 48
While at first this section might seem strange it really isn’t. Jesus is basically saying that we need to be radically devoted to our relationship with the Messiah. Any attitude or action that compromises that relationship should be pushed away. Gouging out an eye will not get you to heaven—only a relationship with Jesus where He bears the penalty for your sin. The values of this age simply aren’t worth it given the eternal fork in the road. Hands, feet, and eyes symbolize what we hear and do. Though there is a personal application here, it seems likely that Jesus is speaking about removing those people from the church that are influencing young believers to abandon their relationship with Jesus and go back to trusting in the world. This applies to the church as well, especially since in Matthew’s account (Matthew 18), Jesus goes on to talk about church discipline.