“Don’t you think Jesus ought to tone down the rhetoric a bit?”

What was going on when Jesus, in Mark 9:43 issued those warnings about cutting off your hand or plucking out your eye, or being thrown into a lake with a millstone around your neck?

It was pretty harsh language, surprisingly harsh. And it was directed at the disciples. Let’s back up a few verses and see what would have caused Jesus to go off like that.

In verse 33 we read that Jesus had safely returned home. So that tells us right away that things were rough for Jesus. And there was something he needed to ask his disciples.

“What was it you were talking about on the road,” he says? Nobody wanted to respond because the argument had been about which one of them was the greatest disciple. As the silence grew Jesus said, “if you want to be great, then be the least.”

There was a child in the room, so Jesus grabbed her up in his arms and said “Whoever embraces one of these children as I do embraces me, and far more than me—God who sent me.”

He was at it again. Turning everything upside down about God and about this world. We see those cute pictures in kids books and hanging in Sunday School class rooms with Jesus surrounded by little children. It all looks so sweet to us. But it was far from that for people of first century Palestine.

Kids were at the bottom of the social ladder, where social ladders were very important. People didn’t tend to have sweet feelings about them. Far too often, they simply represented another mouth that would be difficult to feed. And they had no power whatsoever. The disciples were definitely into power.

So when Jesus set that child before them, in response to their bickering about who among the group of disciples should be regarded as the most important, the one with the most power, and suggested a child as the model, their response was to change the subject.

John says, “We saw this man casting out demons in your name and told him to stop because he wasn’t one of the group.” Somehow John thinks this is going to help Jesus feel better about things, but it doesn’t have that effect. Jesus says don’t stop such a thing, he’s on our side, doing what I want done.

That’s when Jesus calls attention, once again, to the child and launches into his warnings about giving the little ones a hard time. “If your hand or foot gets in God’s way chop it off.”

Mary was talking about this the other day. When we read this business about cutting off your hand or your foot, we tend to think of it as some kind of self mutilation. But it’s probably going to help us get the point of what Jesus is saying here if we think about it as amputation, removing a diseased limb before the disease gets worse.

What Jesus was seeing in the disciples was a disease he tired of seeing us pass on to the little ones. This need to determine who is the most important individual or group has brought too much pain to this world. And Jesus wanted it to stop. We need to stop teaching our kids that kind of thing, to get rid of the stumbling blocks of racial and religious superiority and the lust for power because it does so much damage to them.

So his language got strong, and his warnings harsh. But for the sake of the kids, if nothing else, he wants us to live in new ways in this world, and he points us to the children. If any of them imagined they were greater than the children, and that was the common assumption, then they are showing that they had no idea what Jesus was doing. And he was in considerable danger trying to get them to figure what he was doing. There were people who were trying to kill him precisely because he rejected this way of living in the world that elevated power and racial and religious superiority. And the disciples weren’t even buying into it.

Earlier in this chapter we read about the disciples’ failure to help a man’s whose son has been seized by a demon. So it is more than a little ironic when the disciples change the subject about their argument on the road by expressing their objection to someone outside their group casting out demons. They can’t do it, and want to prevent someone who can from doing it.

So you can see why Jesus is getting a bit frustrated with these folk and resorting to such strong language. Despite some of the internal tension taking place between the disciples and between Jesus and the disciples there is a point we better be sure we don’t miss.

It must have been refreshing for Jesus to learn that someone was out there doing what he wanted done, instead of being surrounded by the clueless disciples. And it goes the same for today.

We are now living in a nation that has gone on record in support of torture. It seems this big compromise that was worked out in Washington DC wasn’t about ending torture, but simply not using the word torture. The Congress gave approval to the President to authorize whatever extreme questioning of prisoners he or his underlings feel is necessary, as long as our nation goes on record as supporting the Geneva Accords. We don’t have to abide by them any longer, we just have to say we do. And as an added safeguard, they approved the President’s provision that if some interrogator should happen to treat a prisoner in a way that could be construed as torture, that interrogator could not be punished.

Now there are lots of politicians who call themselves Christian in Washington, DC and preachers around the country who are applauding this new law. They are not on Jesus’s side. Do you know who is? Christians and others who are outraged that the United States of America has adopted torture as policy?

Could you imagine Jesus saying to that little girl he is holding that she doesn’t have to worry any more because the bad people are being tortured? And that she wouldn’t have to worry if innocent people are being tortured because she will never have to know? This new laws prohibits prisoners that the President declares supportive of terror from going to court to prove their innocence.

Who is doing the work of Jesus? If it’s not the church then we should be glad for whoever is.

In the height of the all the nuclear disarmament movement of the 1980s there was a big rally at the Pentagon where there were enough people to form a human ring around it, calling for a more peaceful world.

While that was going on outside the building, inside it was the weekly prayer breakfast of military and civilian personnel who do the planning for war. At that prayer breakfast outrage was expressed at the peace demonstrators, while prayer was offered for guidance to help our nation increase its military capabilities. Who was on Jesus’ side? Was it the folk on the outside of the building or inside?

This is what Jesus wants us to be thinking about. And if he has to use some extreme language and disturbing images then great. If this passage disturbs us, good.

But Jesus uses another image that to me is just as striking as the one about cutting off our hands and plucking out our eyes. “Anyone by just giving you a cup of water in my name is on our side. Count on it that God will notice.” We have all kinds of opportunities, in the midst of the torture, the warrior Christians, of taking a stand with Jesus.

When we walk in the CROP Walk it is for a hungry Jesus we are walking. Those donations we make so the world can be a little less hungry are making Jesus a little less hungry.

The path of discipleship, of following Jesus and his ways, is as serious a commitment as any of us can make. But it works itself out in cold cups of water and CROP Walks, and standing against torture and suicide bombers, standing against the exploiters of children and the powerless, and regarding the humanity of individuals as Jesus did. It’s the things that seem so little that are going to make a difference in this world because they will help us see the world in a different way.

The disciples were having trouble with that new vision, the vision of Jesus. What they could see and understand was power and superiority. But when we start seeing something else we discover what the Apostle Paul calls redemption.

This is why Jesus came to save us. He didn’t want us to live our lives like the disciples in this story imagined we were supposed to. Jesus wants us to find God’s way of living in this world because that is the way of life.

So he used some pretty extreme language, but he also did something pretty extreme. He gave himself over to the folk who think power and superiority are what matter in this world. They hung him on a cross. But he showed the power that was really at work in this world, a power strong enough to break the power of death on Easter morning. That’s extreme, extreme love.

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