Two weeks ago, we considered the disciples of Jesus fighting about who was most important. Jesus reached down to pick up a little child saying, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not just me but the one who sent me.”
Today, the silly disciples pick up right where they left off. John says to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him because he was not following us.” So Jesus tries again. “If someone does something powerful in my name they will never again be able to speak against me. If they’re not against me, then they are for me. Don’t you get it. It works both ways. If someone gives you give a cup of water because you are called Christian, it is still an act of righteousness. Look at this child that is still sitting in my lap... 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.”
He goes on, “Cut off your hand or your foot. Tear out your eye. Do what you have to do to protect this child. Your place in the eternal kingdom depends on it... You are the salt of the earth. If you cannot clean yourselves up and be that salt, then God will purify you until you are what you are supposed to be. Salt that preserves. Salt that makes everything taste better.” Then Jesus speaks a command, “Now have salt in your selves and be at peace with one another. For the sake of this child sitting on my lap.” Jesus is using a pun to make a point. This little one, this nobody is the one for whom you must be salt. The well-being of the one on the bottom of the food chain of power is the one whose welfare is the measure of our behavior as disciples.
After the resurrection of Jesus, the book of Acts tells of a man and his household who were baptized. Women, slaves and children baptized into the church, because culture says the one in charge of the group is responsible for all the decisions, including decisions about faith. Ancient culture and social structure are tough to defend in modern America. Even when we were developing as a nation, some church leaders were uncomfortable with social structures of antiquity.
One American theologian named Thomas Campbell wrote in 1809, “It is not necessary that persons have a particular knowledge to entitle them to a place in the church. No one should ever be required to make a profession more extensive than their own knowledge. All that is needed is a biblical knowledge of the free gift of grace that is represented for us by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is by grace and not because we follow rules perfectly or do any number of certain things that people say we have to do to have access to the covenant that sets us free from sin and death. It is grace that allows obedience to Jesus to be seen in the conduct and tempers of all who consider each other the precious saints of God, who should love each other as sisters and brothers, children of the same family and father, temples of the same spirit, members of the same body, subjects of the same grace, objects of the same divine love, bought with the same price and joint heirs of the same inheritance...”
Perhaps the theologians of early America were naive and idealistic or filled with hope for a simple answer to complicated life among people of diverse faith. Perhaps in God’s good time, we will all see the powerless little slave child on Jesus’ lap and hear Jesus saying, “What are you arguing about? Use your salt right now in the lives you are living. Flavor everything with peace. Be at peace with one another and live, right this minute, in the Kingdom of God. If you can’t live in it while you are alive, why would you want to live in it eternally? Look around at the fruit of your own living and of your church. Are you welcoming the slaves and children? Remember, how you welcome them is how you are welcoming me.” May this be the time that we finally hear and obey.