You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 21, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.
Jesus’ disciples are upset that a man was using the name of Jesus to exorcise demons. Jesus told them to let him be–if he is not against them he is with them.
The disciples were offended because this guy was not part of their group. They don’t like someone working in the name of Jesus who is not like them. How much this reminds me of certain churches who think they are the only ones who really know Jesus and that they can’t work with other churches! Jesus, though, is not trying to exclude people. He welcomes anyone, as we should.
The next part is hard to paraphrase, so I will just put it here:
“If one of these little children believes in me, and someone causes that child to sin, it will be very bad for that person. It would be better for them to have a millstone tied around their neck and be drowned in the sea. If your hand makes you sin, cut it off. It is better for you to lose part of your body and have eternal life than to have two hands and go to hell. There the fire never stops. If your foot makes you sin, cut it off. It is better for you to lose part of your body and have eternal life than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. If your eye makes you sin, take it out. It is better for you to have only one eye and enter God’s kingdom than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell. The worms that eat the people in hell never die. The fire there is never stopped.
“Everyone will be salted with fire.
“Salt is good. But if it loses its salty taste, you can’t make it good again. So, don’t lose that good quality of salt you have. And live in peace with each other.”
This passage strikes me as poetic, full of hyperbole–drowning, cutting off body parts, fire, etc. It can be hard to understand, especially for someone like me who is trying to get beyond the literalism I grew up with. I read in the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible that “Priests salted some sacrifices as well as cooked them”. So perhaps this is a call-back to previous passages about sacrifice and service. We are to offer ourselves to God, wholly committed and salty. We don’t have to be part of a certain group (listen up, disciples and those like them) or act a certain way–we gotta stay salty. And we are to live in peace with each other–not excluding others.