Summary: The text is for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Common Lectionary Reading for Year B, and looks at Characteristics of a Disciple as in the previous two Sundays.
STUMBLING BLOCK OR SALT?
--by R. David Reynolds
Mark’s Gospel has been giving us excellent glimpses into the character of a true disciple of Jesus Christ. As I prayerfully considered our text this morning two points spoke most powerfully to me. Jesus warns us as His disciples against the pitfalls of stumbling, and He commands us to be salt.
Our Lord has a two fold concern about stumbling in our text. He does not want any of His disciples to cause another Christian to stumble; but neither does He want any of His us to stumble in our personal walk of faith. He treats both matters very seriously.
Just exactly what is a stumbling block? A father shares a personal experience He had with his family. “The weather had been rather spring like for the month of January in New Jersey. The unseasonable weather had my boys enjoying the outdoors in ways not normal for winter.
“I came home from work one night and parked my truck out in the driveway, jumped out, and headed up the front walk towards the house. The next thing I knew I’m laying on the ground writhing in pain. One of the boys had left his skateboard right in the middle of the walkway, and it caused me to trip.
“I took a few minutes to gather my composure. Then I walked into the house to find my darling wife and sons sitting in the kitchen talking.
“I said hello and mentioned something about how nice the weather had been all day. Everyone agreed, and then, the truth came out. Rob said, ‘It was so nice today that I even rode my skateboard.’
“‘So,’ I said, ‘I want to thank you for that reminder of what it feels like to fall off of a skateboard.’ He asked what I meant, and I proceeded to show him the tear in my new pair of jeans and the gash in my leg.
“’What happened,’ he asked.
“I told him that he left his skateboard in the middle of the front walk and I had stumbled over it and fell. He apologized and said he didn’t mean to leave it in the walkway” [--http://www.sermonillustrator.org/ illustrator/sermon3/coffee_and_the_skateboard.htm].
Rob’s skateboard was a stumbling block for his Father. In the New Testament the word for stumbling block is the one from which we get our English word “scandal.” It is found only in the New Testament, and is never used by any of the Classical Greek authors. Literally, it means “a trap.” It originally referred to “the trigger of a trap on which the bait is placed.” When the bait is touched by the intended victim, the trap springs and closes around the animal causing its entrapment.” It is similar to our mouse trap. A stumbling block is a trap for weaker Christians; it is anything that would lead a Christian brother or sister astray, into sin, or cause that person to fall away from the truth.
As disciples we are not to be the cause for another brother or sister to sin or fall away from the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul also is concerned about stumbling blocks in I Corinthians 8:10-13. It is clear in his use of the term that although a stumbling block may not be a sin for a mature disciple, it may cause great harm to weaker, younger Christians who are not yet strong enough in the faith to resist the temptations that may be associated with it. Listen to his words in I Corinthians 8 from the NRSV: “Food will not bring us close to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.”
Jesus takes the threat of a disciple becoming the stumbling block that causes another brother or sister to go astray, fall into sin, or loose faith very seriously. He says, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone around his neck, he had been cast into the sea.” A millstone was “one of a pair of large, round, flat stones used to grind grain.” We have a couple of power point pictures that visually demonstrate what this verse is saying. I am going to ask Rick to show us two pictures of millstones for just a second. Grinding meal was a task usually reserved for women in Palestine; it was regarded as too degrading a task for men. The upper-stone of the Eastern hand-mill was usually only about 18 to 24 inches in diameter; therefore, it could easily be hung around the neck of a person to be drowned. There were large mills, however, that could not be turned by a woman, and a donkey had to do the work. The stones used in this case were so large that brute, animal strength was required to turn them. The millstone in our text may refer to such a large stone, turned by donkey power. The Syrians, Romans, and Greeks sometimes would execute the worst of criminals by weighting them down with one of these heavy stones and drowning them in the depths of the sea. Thus weighted down, those suffering such execution had no possible hope of survival [--Rev. James M. Freeman, “Millstone—Drowning,” in Rev. James M. Freeman, Bible Manners and Customs, ed. Logos International (Plainfield, New Jersey: Logos International, 1972), 354].