"And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. 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 to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where 'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched'. Everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other."
Sometimes we have to think for a while before we get what Jesus was saying. This passage is like that. Jesus was concerned that His disciples did not know what they were doing. He warns them. He even speaks to them about hell. We can imagine His disciples sitting up and listening very carefully. But why did hell have to come into it? Good question! Let's try and find out.
Remember last time? John and some of the others had met a man who was casting out evil spirits using Jesus' name. They had told him to stop and come with them. He refused. Jesus seems to have taken the man's side. He told His disciples that God's Kingdom is not about people dropping everything and joining our group. It was just after that when Jesus said this. Its about caring for those God brings across our path, adults and children. It is also about avoiding hell.
This was one of Jesus' famous classes. His disciples remembered it clearly, but what was it all about? As you think about this, remember that the opposition from Jesus' enemies was growing. They were planning to capture and kill Him when He got to Jerusalem. Jesus reminds us that whatever faces us our task is to be as kind to others as God had been to us.
So, what about the "little ones"? Children? Yes. But remember how He taught His disciples to remind themselves of who they are by welcoming God's children? By seeing each other as God's children we see who we are. Jesus helped John and the rest to realise that since that other man was a child of their Heavenly Father, he like them was "a little one who believes". He needed respect. Jesus told His disciples that they can hurt God's children by thoughtless action. They must not. He put it very strongly. Watch out that you are not stopping others who believe in me. If you do that you might as well be dead loving our neighbour is serious, in fact it is a matter of life and death .. you are doing something devilish sounds like what He had said to Peter . you are fighting God's Kingdom. Can you get any clearer than that? Jesus went on.
Get rid of it? Toss it away? Drastic action is needed if you are to avoid missing out on God's Kingdom. That's what Jesus was saying with these tough words.
Of course, Jesus was not saying that we can only get into heaven with one hand. He was saying that we need to get our own lives right. Being in God's Kingdom is real life; it is no game. It is about kindness and gentleness. The other way is the way to hell, to total unhappiness, to misery and a complete mess. Any action taken by any disciple can still get caught up in the smell of hell. It shouldn't be so but Jesus was warning His disciples about sin. And sin is not first of all the problem of the other guy. It's our own problem. That is why He says: cut off your own hand, knock out your own tooth, pluck out your own eye. In other words: get to work on yourself first - it's your hand, your tooth, your eye before you start judging the other guy. Jesus turned it around. It's a matter of our Heavenly Father's generosity.
Jesus defined us as salt. Salt added to the sacrifice made it smell nice. It is as if the entire creation, all of life, is to smell the sweet smell that has resulted from the sacrifice of God's Son. Think of that! We read this now, a couple of thousand years later, but it still applies. The sacrifice of the Lamb of God makes our life possible. The whole earth has been saved and we, taught by Jesus, are salt, sweet perfume, going up to the heavens. But if we ignore who we are then our actions will start smelling like stinking rubbish. This is the stink that rises from the rubbish dump where all our sins end up and Jesus came to ensure that God's image-bearers would not end up where their sins are.
God makes us into His special friends; we are on first name terms with Our Heavenly Father. Remember that! This is the treasure without price. The whole creation has to hear this. That's why it's important. The thing is to be kind, just like God has been kind to us. If not, the stink of our action is the stink of hell.
As Jesus' friends, we live kindly as sons and daughters of Our Father in Heaven. By staying close to what He teaches us, we don't have to worry.