…Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
…The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.
John said to him,
“Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”
But Jesus said,
“Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me….
…And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
“For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
These difficult words of Jesus became a focus for great encouragement in our meeting.
Firstly it was noted that the prayer of Elijah; his crying out, stopped the rain and then brought rain to the earth and many were blessed.
Then it was noted that the very name of Jesus was resulting in works of power, and things were happening by the prayers of the unrighteous. In the eyes of the disciples they shouldn’t. The rain was falling for the good as well as the bad, as they saw it and they weren’t happy that the ones praying were not them.
What is Jesus’ answer? Surprisingly he does not forbid but considers those who were experiencing Christ, despite the unregulated message. “Whoever is not against us is for us.” God is bigger than the box the disciples were trying to put him in.
And then come strong and violent words from Jesus. What are we to think? These set of readings seem confusing and contradictory.
The clue is in the last few verses of Mark and the community that James describes in his letter.
Bad things happen; suffering comes to all, the church is not immune from suffering and sickness; this is the salting with fire and Jesus links it to the fires of Gehenna. Then Jesus takes a turn, a twist, and says salt is good. There is another salt that isn’t the salting of the fires of Gehenna.
The fires of Gehenna are the fires of guilt and condemnation; the consequences of turning from God; of sacrificing to false gods and acting unjustly and without mercy forgetting the poor.
The strictures of the judgements seen in Gehenna brought the people of Israel to their knees as they experienced the outcomes of their turning away from God. God gave them up to the consequences and withdrew from them.
The salt is the law that was there to guide and protect them as a people, which came with a curse. If they had delighted in the law then what befell them would have been different but instead they forgot the seasoned words of the law. God set before them life and they chose death.
The law was to be their teacher and they rejected it, the way of Moses, the law and the priesthood were there to set them apart for the blessing of the world, and now Jesus says plainly that the law had failed and these ways had lost their saltiness.
The temple and its religion had lost its saltiness and here was a new way, the promised way that would be a better way that would be in peoples’ hearts and in their mouths; the way that the tablets of stone foreshadowed, the way that the law was meant to be.
The saltiness of the law would be held within hearts and bring transformation not by control and by prohibition; the external rules would become internal drivers so that no longer would people have to say, know the Lord for he would be near them.
What the disciples were doing was trying to start another system of laws; of prohibitions but Jesus says, “…for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.” He says in another way, do not weed the field let it grow and leave the weeding to God.
And these verses makes sense of the verses on severing of limbs and the tearing out of eyes. This is the violence of the law; the logical consequence of trying to live under law. If the law is the way you choose then you can only gain life by doing violence to the seat of your sin and, just maybe you will gain eternal life as a mutilated stump as Dallas Willard puts it in his book The Divine Conspiracy (Published by William Collins, 1998, page 186).
Jesus puts before us a new way. We need to read the words of Jesus with grace. Our interpretation of Jesus’ words exposes our hearts and the way we practice them reveals the heart our way comes from. Is there good fruit? Jesus calls the disciples to drink the new wine of freedom but in doing so not try to contain it in the old wine skin of control and law but allow God to be glorified in a new wine skin of abundant life and peace.
He does this with a warning. Only this way will contain the work he has brought. We can see in history the havoc that not heeding Jesus’ words has brought. The apostles were found wanting as we often are in our judging. Jesus warns them that they risk severe consequences in their attitude to these works of power; “… it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.” This is the curse for those who reject the new way, the new wine or try to contain the new wine in old wine skins.
So, each day, as God presents us with life, let us be open to the Spirit and reflect on the day, on the blessings that God has brought us through his indwelling presence. Let us reflect on where we have failed, sure in the knowledge that we are God’s little children and every kindness to us has blessed the giver. Let us resolve with Jesus to do good to all and allow the works of power speak for themselves, marvelling at how God has worked his way into our day.
There is a mid-week prayer meeting at the chapel with a period of 20 minutes silent prayer on a Wednesday starting at 8pm and finishing at around 840pm.