Jesus offers strong words in today’s passage. He cautions the listener to attend to behavior and speech. We could quail in the face of these challenges and assume that going to hell is a given. Yet Jesus, using the colloquial patterns of his culture, loves to overstate in order to make a point.
I am a native Texan, and my own regional sayings have something of this flavor. My grandmothers would say, “Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.” Or, “Bite your tongue before you say that.” I knew they weren’t being literal. I also knew they were trying to make a point. Colloquial speech doesn’t beat around the bush.
Jesus desires our awakening from collective slumber. He wants us to notice how we wound one another with unthoughtful speech. Jesus senses that we have fallen into a spiritual narcolepsy. He believes we need strong metaphors. Such serious and yet playful speech can stir our hearts, clear our minds, and kindle our spirits.
After all, we need to have salt in ourselves. As any cook will tell you, a bit of salt brings forth the flavors of a dish. Too much, and you taste only salt. Having a little salt—even through hyperbolic warnings—in the dish of life helps us remember that God created us to live with love, joy, gentleness, kindness, self-control, patience, generosity, compassion, and faithfulness.
Wake up! Be kind! Care for yourself and one another! For heaven’s sake, live like you’re alive! God calls us to choose life.
Risen Christ, awaken me to this world, to my friends and neighbors. May I know your presence in all places and at all times and be transformed by your Spirit of love. Amen.
The Jewish people have faced possible destruction numerous times. The story begins not with the Holocaust in Europe but far back in history during the time of Esther. The wicked Haman plots to wipe out God’s people, but God saves the people through Esther’s courage. The psalmist praises God for this kind of salvation from seemingly impossible circumstances. Although we may not face genocide, we have our own struggles. James encourages us to pray with faith, believing that God can and will answer. Our prayers are powerful, James assures us. Jesus teaches us the importance of letting nothing stand between God and us. Using vivid hyperbole, he admonishes us to put the pursuit of God above everything else and to support others in that same pursuit.
• Read Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22. What traditions extend your memory?
• Read Psalm 124. God created heaven and earth. How do you choose to be on God’s side, the side of creation?
• Read James 5:13-20. When has God’s abiding presence allowed you to experience some sense of cheer despite your suffering?
• Read Mark 9:38-50. Whoever is not against you is for you. How can you share God’s love with those outside your inner circle?
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