Do you know that every language has its strength and weakness? I think one of the weakness of English language is we say, “How old are you?” as apposed to in other languages that I know that says “How many years have you got?”, “What age are you?”, or “How big is your age?” In Chinese, they don’t ask you, “How old are you?” but “How big are you?” Being big sound much better than being old.
The kids are proud to say I am five years old, or I am 18 years old. But, after fifty, I just don’t want to be reminded how old I am. Coincidentally, tomorrow is my birthday. Don’t ask me how old I am. You can use the Chinese way and ask, “How big are you?” Then, I might get confused and answer, I’m 170 pounds. Maybe preferably, “How young are you?”
In fact, according to Jesus, our spiritual age goes toward the opposite direction—the more spiritually mature we are, the younger we appear. Remember this: “The more spiritually mature you are, the younger you appear.” In fact, Jesus wants you to ultimately grow into a child, or, he said, you would not enter the kingdom of heaven.
He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
A childlike spirit is the litmus test for spiritual maturity and against spiritual disorder. Not all spiritual growth is healthy. The Chinese has a term “Zouhuo Rumo 走火入魔,” which is equivalent to Kundalini Syndrome, a condition when a spiritual pactice gets derailed or melfunctioned that leads to mental and emotional disorders. In Christianity, I would call it Pharisee Syndrome. Pharisees are very spiritual people. They are very "faithful" to the scriptures, but according to Jesus, they are not "fruitful" because they got stuck in their egos and arrogance that caused the spiritual disorder.
The ancient Chinese sages also said that being young makes you soft and supple, and being old makes you hard and rigid (just like my frozen shoulder). They use that reality to measure a person’s mind and spirit. Using that to interpret what Jesus is saying would be if your mind and spirit is hard and rigid, you are like the Pharisees growing old--developing rigid boundaries and drawing hard lines.
Your mind and spirit must be like a child, being soft and supple—being humble, flexible, graceful, and loving without limits.
Jesus was very concerned about his disciple contracting such spiritual disorder. He said,
For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
He warned them that the unfruitful branches will be cut down and burned. Pharisees represent unfruitful branches on the vine.
Sometimes, I wonder how a person can grow in faith and knowledge of the Bible and turn into the likeness of the Pharisees rather than Christ. Pharisees focus on faith rather than fruit. They argue about what’s right and what’s wrong rather than what’s loving and what’s not. In fact, when love is right, nothing is wrong.
Jesus addressed this issue in Mark 9. His disciples were growing in faith and knowledge and that was the good thing. But, Jesus kept an ear on them and heard them arguing with one another on the subject of who was the greatest. That’s a symptom of the Pharisee Syndrome—competing and comparing who is greater than who. The Pharisees often ranked themselves by how much they knew the Bible and how much they keep the law.
Jesus gave them the first antidote to the Pharisee Syndrome,
He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”
In other words, “Don’t compare your success, compare you service.”
Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
The word welcome here comes from the Greek word δέχομαι (dechomai) meaning “receiving” or “providing hospitality.” The child symbolizes someone who is not just physically young, but also those who are mentally or spiritually in their infancy.
That leaves no room for us to look down on anyone who are spiritually immature—a symptom we often see on the Pharisees.
Now how about outsiders? The passage today begins with John complaining about someone using Jesus name without license.
John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”
Notice it doesn’t say, “he was not following Jesus,” but “he was not following us.” That means John believe anyone that wants to invoke Jesus name to heal must get their permission. “You must follow us if you want to use our boss’s name.”
Isn’t it what the Pharisees liked to do? They like to control the licensing of God exclusively. They decide who is in and who is out. However, Jesus did not allow them to own his name. Who is in and who is out is determined by God. Jesus said,
Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away;
It’s the father that bring them to Christ.
Jesus used another antidote against this Pharisee Syndrome,
Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
In here, he is saying that we must not only let them be, but also help them out, since they bear the name of Christ. God rewards those who are kind to his people.
Now Jesus gave them a serious waning against the Pharisee Syndrome. It might sound like hell fire and brimstone, but the purpose is to show how serious this matter is and he want to give them a strong immunization against the Pharisee Syndrome.
“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. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell,where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
The language is figurative and hyperbolic, vivid and harsh. “Cut it off” is a command to be taken not literally, but seriously. If every Christians treat these verses literally, we will all be a bunch of cripples. The Kingdom of God is a place of love without limits. The surpassing value of entering the Kingdom of God makes every other good expendable.
Now the last two verses provide the ultimate antidote to the Pharisee Syndrome.
“For everyone will be salted with fire.Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
What does salt mean here? The last sentence explains it. Salt means being at peace with one another. In the Old Testament times, people don’t eat salt with their enemies. A good analogy would be the story of Ali Baba. I’m sure many of you have read the story. The chief of the forty thieves refuses to allow Ali Baba’s servant to put salt in his food because he comes to kill Ali Baba. He does not want peace with him.
Jesus wants you to have salt. He said everyone will be salted with fire. Fire is the pruning fire, or the purifying fire. God wants you to bear fruit, so he prunes the branches on you. When Christians go through difficult time, it can be a pruning time. Getting pruned can be painful but you will come out bearing more fruit—the fruit of love without limits.
God lets you go through burning fire like that of a crucible for purifying gold or silver. Going through the fire is painful, but you will come out a pure gold or silver. A pure gold of love. A love that doesn’t draw lines. A love that Jesus exemplified on the cross. A love that makes you become a child and enter the kingdom of God.
So stretch your love beyond your current boundaries of love and you will grow young and live forever.