Mark reminds us again of the denseness of the disciples! Is Mark being overly harsh? Probably not, based on Jesus’ own reactions. And there is a traditional understanding of the Gospel that says that Mark is actually recording Peter’s recollections. Peter probably would be rather harsh on the disciples, because he was one of the main people who over claimed and under delivered!
Rather than be concerned about Jesus’ revelation about His upcoming death and resurrection, the disciples were concerned about which one of them was the greatest. So Jesus says, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he sets a child in their midst, and uses the child as an example. By ministering to someone who can’t give them anything, do them any favors, or enhance their reputation, they are ministering to Jesus and doing the will of God.
The disciples continue to show their competitiveness by trying to stop others who were apparently doing miracles but weren’t a part of their group. Jesus warns them to not be so critical of others who don’t belong to their group, but seem to still follow Christ. Any words of wisdom for us today?
Tucked in here is a reminder that those who bless God’s children will be blessed themselves (9:41). The contrary is also true. “Little ones” (9:42) here could refer to children, but probably refers to spiritually immature believers of any age. If anyone causes them to sin, watch out!
Jesus then turns the conversation to sin in general. He uses hyperbole (exaggeration to make a point) to show that nothing is more important than serving God and keeping from sin. Hand, foot, and eye probably represent the sins committed by those body parts (like theft, or lust). Such sin, under the old covenant, leads right to hell. “Hell” here is literally “Gehenna,” where the garbage of Jerusalem was continually being burned. For those of us who have believed, sin causes a rift in our relationship with God because we grieve the Spirit (Ephesians 4:30).
The end of our passage seems to be a harsh transition. How does it relate? Salt is associate with sacrifices, and is a preservative. While believers don’t have to worry about the fires of hell, they will still face the fire of trials and persecutions in this life (1 Peter 1:7). We will persevere (“be salted by fire”). The purification and refining process that we go through will mature our faith, and we won’t be so worried about who is the greatest!
Note: verses 44, 46 and a part of verse 49 are missing. They are missing in a few Greek manuscripts that most modern translations follow. The verses are explanatory, so not a lot of meaning is lost, but I believe the verses probably should be there. Pick up a NKJV if you want to read them.