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"Our Answer is God. God's answer is us. Through partnership we make our world better."
- Dorian Scott Cole

Teaching/Sermon Article

Teaching/Sermon Article: Worth Your Salt?

Lectionary: Sept. 27, 2009 - Mark 9 (38-50)

Copyright © 2009 Dorian S. Cole


In Mark chapters 8 and 9 Jesus began preparing his disciples to become his workers after he was gone. His message is a candid picture of responsibility: What was to happen to him that they must accept; how they must step up their game to become upstanding and respectable servants of faith; and they must shift their focus from competition between themselves to serving even the lowest of the low before thinking of themselves. In verses 33-50, he talks specifically to his 12 Apostles, charging them to exemplary conduct.

At this point in Mark's story, Jesus is nearing the end of his ministry. He has many followers (disciples) who follow him and sit at his feet, and even try to do work similar to his. He has twelve apostles who will be entrusted with the major mission of spreading the church and his message. His attention turns to preparing those who will become his workers after he is gone. He has tough words for them in Chapters 8 and 9.

Some of his followers now knew that he was the Christ (the anointed one who will be the Messiah - Mark 8:27-30). He shared with them the rejection and suffering that would come to him (Mark 8:31-33). But these revelations were very disturbing to them. When Peter took issue with this idea, Christ rebuked him (Mark 8: 31-33). They must accept Christ's mission. They could not mention events and special knowledge to others, so they discussed them quietly among themselves (Mark 8:30; 9:10), and out of fear of the future they would not even ask Christ what he meant about his future suffering (Mark 9:30-32).

Perhaps there was no other way to remove their fear and build their faith than to show them. Three Apostles were chosen to accompany him up the mountain to see Elijah and Moses and witness his being momentarily transfigured. They saw that this was a supernatural happening and they began to ponder what it meant that Christ would rise from the dead. He explained that Elijah had come before the Messiah, just as the scribes said must happen, but Elijah (John the Baptist) was also mistreated, just as foretold. It was a theme that should be opening their eyes - the example was set by Elijah and the same would happen to him. This was the mission that Christ chose; it was the mission God appointed him to. It was not a human choice, it was supernatural. This should have been of some assurance and comfort to the three Apostles.

When he rejoined his group of disciples, he found them arguing with the scribes because they could not cast out a spirit. He admonished them all for their unbelief - they must have more faith. He cast out the spirit and then told his disciples that this one could only be cast out with prayer. They wasted their time arguing with the scribes. What was needed was their earnest prayers to God in the boy's behalf, not spectacles and arguments.

On their journey to Capernaum the disciples discussed who was the greatest. Here they were, big shots, journeying around the nation casting out demons, debating with scribes, and preaching the word of this miracle worker, Jesus. They thought they were really something. But Jesus said to them that they must first be servants of everyone, even the lowest among them, or they were simply last.

Jesus used the example of a child - they should serve even a child. Probably disappointed by their low status, John pointed to an example of someone who was not even a disciple and he was casting out demons in Christ's name, so they stopped him. Surely, they must have thought, they were above this person. Yet this person Christ also said was acceptable and good would come of it. In fact, anyone who does service in Christ's name will be rewarded.

The call to serve was not to be taken lightly. It was time for self-discipline. Previously (Mark 8:33-38) Christ said to his large group of disciples that were following him, if you're going to follow me, then you must deny yourself. What do you have if you gain the entire world, but lose your soul? His words might also have been meant to get rid of those who had the wrong motives for following him, such as grandeur. Following Christ is not about us - it's about those we serve.

Now Christ turned his attention to the impact of his apostles conduct on others. He gathered his 12 Apostles and pointed again to the child and told them if they caused a child to sin, it would be better for them if they were absolutely drowned at the bottom of the sea. In fact, the works of all of them would be tested (salted with fire - purified - Mark 8:49). They would not want to live with the consequences of the wrongs they have done in this life. It would be better if they lost a limb than to live forever with wrongdoings. Wrongdoings will be like fire and worms eating at their souls forever.

These very tough words were no doubt intended to instill self-discipline in the Apostles from whom much dedication and moral stature would be required. Their attention should not be on themselves, and they should not be struggling with each other over who was greater. All of this attention on themselves would no doubt lead to sins of pride, as in Chapter 10 where the disciples tried to keep people from bringing their children to Christ.

But he left his Apostles with some sage words about salt, and themselves. Salt was so precious to people that the Roman soldiers were literally paid with salt, and the Romans operated their own salt mines just to get it. Salt was what made food flavorful. Without salt, a lot of food, such as fish and wheat, has a very bland flavor. In this very difficult environment where labor was very hard and food was scarce, salt was a delightful reward. So salt was a very meaningful illustration.

It would certainly have gotten their attention when Jesus said (Mark 8:49; RSV), "Everyone will be salted by fire." Their motives and their actions would be revealed in the flames and they would be purified. Now having their attention, Christ then said to them, salt is good, but then he asked, if salt lost its saltiness, how would you get it back? He then instructed them to have salt in themselves (Mark 9:50). What did he mean by having salt in themselves?

Salt would be useless if it became ineffective. Apostles are useless in their work if they become ineffective. How would they become ineffective? By contending with each other so that the focus is on them, not on their work. He concluded, " at peace with one another."

Yours in Christ,

- Dorian Scott Cole

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About the author: Dorian Scott Cole is an independent, cross-disciplinary scholar with education and experience in psychology, philosophy, religion, language, visual semiotics, and technology. He is a licensed minister with a mainline denomination with full time pastoral and counseling experience. His education in religion and psychology was through a state university (IU) followed by independent study. Other books and publications: Ontology of God, How to Write a Screenplay, Writers Workshop Script Doctor,, and

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About the author: Dorian Scott Cole is an independent, cross-disciplinary scholar with education and experience in psychology, philosophy, religion, language, visual semiotics, and technology. Other books and publications: How to Write a Screenplay, Writers Workshop Script Doctor,, and

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