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Gospel of Mark 9: 42-50 (NIV)
42 “If anyone causes one of these little ones – those who believe in me – to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung round their neck and they were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 where
‘the worms that eat them do not die,
and the fire is not quenched.’
49 Everyone will be salted with fire.
50 Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”
This passage quotes Jesus, “If anyone causes one of these little ones – those who believe in me – to stumble, …” Other translations use, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,” (ESV) or “If anyone should cause one of these little ones to lose faith in me,” (GNT).
Jesus was not using the term “stumbling block” as a gentle euphemism for sin. Consider the alternatives he gave to cutting off the hand that causes stumbling or the foot that causes stumbling or plucking out the eye that causes stumbling. In each case the alternative was blunt: “to be thrown into hell” with the additional unpleasantness of “the fire (that) never goes out”!
These words tell how seriously Jesus considers it to be if my hand causes me to “stumble”, or if my foot causes me to “stumble”, or if my eye causes me to “stumble”.
We find similar guidance recorded by Matthew and Luke. We find other words as well.
In Matthew 18, verse 6 is similar to Mark 9: 42. The next verse (7) states: “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!”
Luke 17: 2 is similar to Mark 9: 42. We read in Luke 17: 1, “Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come.’”
What Matthew, Mark and Luke record Jesus as having said can be summarised this way:
- Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks, because of sin. Occasions for stumbling, that is, temptations to sin are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom those stumbling blocks, those temptations to sin, do come! It would be better for them to be fed to the sharks!”
The essence of Jesus’ teaching here is that, though temptations to sin may be inevitable, the one by whom those temptations come is destined for hell!
We think of those “little ones” who have suffered abuse at the hands of people within the church, clergy and lay. We weep for those abused, who may have been turned away from the Christian faith forever!
May we all resolve to oppose injustice wherever it appears and to support all people who suffer from unjust behaviour, unjust laws or unjust treatment.