Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Daily Lenten Meditation

Each day in Lent, I post a meditation from one of our parishioners. Their names are not listed to protect their privacy

Lessons for the Day:  Exodus 5:1-6:1;  1 Corinthians 14:20-33a, 39-40;  Mark 9:42-50

Today’s Gospel reading is from Mark, chapter 9, verses 42-50. I read it and groaned, because it is a hard one. It says, among other things, “And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell.” (v.47)  I read this, and thought about it, and kept coming up empty. I started looking up alternate translations. I learned a few things: like, the word in the Greek for “to sin” in this passage is from the same word that is the root for “scandal”; and that other translations of this passage have said not “to sin,” but “to stumble” or “be your undoing.”  So, if your eye causes you to stumble (in the faith), or is the cause of your undoing, then pluck it out. 

Reading all of this made me think about my work; I got a new, very demanding job about three and a half years ago, and it was a rough transition to full time work from having been a student and part time worker for a long time. Does this mean, my uncomfortable conscience immediately wondered: if my work is causing me to be irritable, brittle, and unloving with my myself and those around me (and it was and sometimes still does), should I “pluck out” my job, i.e., should I quit? Jesus is known for his stark statements, especially in Mark. It seemed quite extreme, like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I have spent the last few years wondering about the place that my work should have in my life, family, and faith. At times I burned with a fierce commitment to total obedience to this kind of biblical order: get rid of the thing that is causing you to stumble, to sin, to be your undoing. Quit. But I kept hesitating. In the end, I didn’t quit. However, I have re-oriented myself to my work. I realized that it was not the job per se that was causing me to stumble; it was my attitude toward my job. It was a selfish attitude that took it too seriously and forgot that God’s power is greater than any scary assignment or fast-paced schedule. I am glad I waited to think and pray about this before “plucking” it out of my life. 

Another verse in this reading is, “For every one will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its saltness, how will you season it?” I only had vague notions of what Jesus meant by this reference to salt. I knew that salt had been used in earlier days as a form of payment, thus our word “salary” comes from the word for salt. But this didn’t seem to be what Jesus was talking about. Then there’s salt as a leavening agent for bread, or salt as a means of preserving meat. 

I liked the idea of being salty in the way of leavening – this could mean, “Lighten up, since God is in control, not you!” Then a sermon I found on this text taught me that in the temple in Jerusalem, salt was added to the temple sacrifices as they were being burned (Lev. 2:13; Ezek. 43:24), leading the preacher to conclude that “being salted with fire suggests that being a true follower of Jesus means being wholly dedicated to God, in other words, a living sacrifice—just like Jesus.”  He went on to say,


After all, what is the most common reason we sin? Isn’t it because we are feeling bad about ourselves, and we want a quick and easy way to make ourselves feel good? Guilt, shame and fear—they just make us feel worse, thereby making us more susceptible to the lure of temptation. No, the only thing stronger than the power of sin at work in us is the power of love: love born in us by the gift of the Holy Spirit writing on our hearts the assurance that God loves us and that nothing can separate us from him; love nurtured and strengthened in us by seeing that God is always there with us in all the ups and downs of our earthly life…. Love from God, love for God, love for others, love for ourselves, the fire of this love is what makes Christians salty. It is a love that does not come from this world. And it is a love that the world cannot take away. 

I love what this preacher said. It gives me great comfort and inspiration. However, there is no getting away from the fact that this passage sobers me. I pray I will always be ready to ask God for the courage necessary to remove myself from anything that separates me from the love of God, and from the salty, sacrificial sense of humor that springs from faith.

Both quotes in this meditation come from a sermon preached by the Rev. Ashley Null, October 16, 2005, at The Falls Church, Virginia.