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These sayings of Jesus are found in different places in the Gospel text. Often they are repeated more than once, as preachers often do when they wish to emphasize a teaching. Sometimes they are presented differently – attached to a healing story, for instance, or to an argument with the Scribes and Pharisees.
The following passage in Mark’s Gospel has a catechetical purpose. That is, the teachings are meant to instruct the disciple, and they are often couched in hyperbole.
The first of these sayings has to do with protecting the faith of the young, not leading them astray through bad example. It were better, the teaching goes, that the one who leads others astray is drowned in the sea with a millstone around his neck. Or that the limbs which cause an offence against God’s law – a hand, an eye or a leg – are cut off for good, and that one stays maimed, but saved.
In other words, to be faithful to the Gospel must take precedence over even bodily pain.
Is this a teaching coming to us from the first persecutions in Rome, where Mark’s Gospel was written?
Three sayings follow, all related to ‘salt’. Salt, like fire, purifies. In other words, the disciple will be tested. So be aware, be alert.
The metaphor of salt continues: the disciple is the ‘salt of the earth’. But what if the disciple loses this one quality which seasons and flavours the community? He is of no use then, except to be thrown away, like dead salt.
Finally, a wish for all who have ‘salt in themselves’, that is, who preserve and enliven the community of the faithful: may they dwell in peace and harmony with each other.