March 20

Psalm 120; Psalm 121; Psalm 122; Psalm 123; Psalm 124; Psalm 125; Psalm 126; Psalm 127; Exodus 5:1—6:1; 1 Corinthians 14:20-33a, 39-40; Mark 9:42-50

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea.” Mark 9:42

This has come to be known as the “Causing to Stumble” passage, from Jesus’ admonitions to his disciples as he was on his way to Jerusalem to die on the cross. Recall that just earlier the disciples had been arguing about who was the greatest among them, and Jesus taught that the path to the top leads through humble service to the least: “anyone who wants to be first must be the last, and the servant of all.” v. 34-35.

This was of course a necessary lesson, both then and now. For a topical local example, those who have enjoyed the team-first playing style of our Virginia Cavaliers’ basketball team know that Servanthood is one of the much-publicized Five Pillars of Coach Bennett’s teaching approach. (look them up!)

But then the passage gets really tough, as Jesus uses harsh, stern language to issue a series of warnings to the disciples. If they cause a little one, a believer, to stumble, they should be thrown into the sea to drown, with a huge stone around their neck. Further, it is better to cut off a hand, a foot, or an eye, than to be thrown into hell for causing a believer to stumble. v. 43-48.

The notion of “stumble,” in this sense, has been widely construed as causing one to sin, to stray from the path of Jesus. Whether it be the things we do (Hand), the places we go (Foot), or the things we see or desire to have (Eye), the opportunities for succumbing to temptation and desire are broad indeed, and we must guard against them at all cost, all the time.

Lent is a good time to think about all this, each in his or her own way. For many, giving up something of value as a form of self-denial during these 40+ days provides a good way to focus the mind on not stumbling or enabling others to stumble. I would offer that it not be seen as a way of obtaining God’s blessing, of picking up a bit of grace…since we are taught that grace is a gift which need not—in fact cannot—be earned.

Rather, during Lent, focus on not stumbling. Focus on the cross.