“Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” Mark 9:50
Our five senses can help us think about today’s Gospel reading: sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste.
In Verse 38 we hear of the disciples telling Jesus of what they have seen, “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.'” The disciples have become proprietorial in their attitude to Jesus, they behave as though his work belongs to them. For the person to have spoken in the name of Jesus was not enough, he had to be one of them in order for them to accept that it was possible for the man to have spoken in the name of Jesus. Because the man was not like them, they could not see that God was at work.
Are we like the disciples? Are there times when when things are happening, when people’s lives are being changed, but because the people doing these things are not part of the church, then we don’t recognize God has been at work? Do we forget that this is God’s world and that God works in his own ways?
Hearing is an important part of the story. Jesus tells the disciples in Verse 39, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me.” The disciples are being taught that words and deeds go together, someone whose deeds are done for God will not speak evil of him. The disciples would have been troubled by the words in Verse 40, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” They had grown up with firm ideas of who were God’s people and who were not, now Jesus is disturbing their ideas. Lest the disciples be hesitant, Jesus gives them a warning in Verse 41-42, “truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward. If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.” It is strong and uncompromising stuff.
Do we hear what Jesus is saying to us? He is emphatic that words should be a reflection of deeds and that those whose deeds do not match their words are in danger of judgement. If we lived our lives mindful that whatever we do for the weak and the vulnerable we do for him, wouldn’t we live very differently?
Thinking about the sense of touch is important to our understanding of the story. There was a tradition in Jewish teaching of exaggerating a point in order to make it very clearly, so in Verses 43-48 we read of Jesus telling the disciples to cut off their hands or feet or tear out their eyes, if these are things that cause them to stumble from the right way in their lives, for it is better to do these things than “to be thrown into hell.” Touch was the way the disciples engaged with the world, the desire to satisfy human appetites. Jesus is warning them not to let those desires cost them their place in heaven.
As with the disciples, touch is the way we engage with the world in our lives, does the way we engage with the world and the way we engage with others reflect what God would want from us? Are there things that could cause us to stumble and lose our way?
Reference to the scent of smell is not obvious, but in Verse 48 Jesus says, “where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.” The disciples would have understood the place of which Jesus was speaking. The word Jesus uses for “hell” is “Gehenna,” a place associated in the Old Testament with human sacrifice. It is a word that would have conjured thoughts of horrible smells. In times that followed particular smells may have reminded the disciples of the warnings that Jesus had given them.
Our sense of smell is the sense most closely linked with our memory. Are there scents, are there smells that bring particular memories? Are there memories evoked that remind us that we are not living our lives as God would wish?
The final sense is taste. In Verse 49-50 Jesus says, “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.” Salt in Jesus’s time was used both to preserve and to add taste to food, the disciples are being challenged to both exclude the bad from, and to add goodness to, the lives of those among whom they lived.
Have we ever thought about our own duty to bring saltiness into the life of the world in which we live? Have we ever thought that we have a duty not just to read about things or watch them on television, but to change things? Have we ever thought that the world should “taste” better because of our efforts?
Five senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste, senses to enable us to follow Jesus.