“And whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in my name, because you belong to Christ – truly I tell you, he will never lose his reward. But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to fall away – it would be better for him if a heavy millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
If you want to get in good with me, do you know the best way to do that? Love my kids. My kids rank pretty high on my list of priorities. In terms of the people I care most about in the world, there’s only one person who outranks them and I’m married to her. If you treat them in a way that reflects my passion for them, you’re going to be sitting pretty firmly in my good graces. In fact, if you love my kids well, even if I’m not terribly inclined to like you myself, I’m going to give you a pretty strong benefit of the doubt and you’ll have to work pretty hard before I write you off. The simple truth is – and if you’re a parent you know this – we love the folks who love our kids. On the other hand, if you’re ugly to my kids, I don’t much care how kind or generous or gracious you are with me, you and I are done. As we keep inching forward in Mark’s Gospel, what we see here reveals that Jesus feels the same way. His family just happens to be a whole lot larger than yours and mine.
Now, let’s put this in context before we dig much into it so we really understand what’s happening here. Jesus is still having the same conversation with the disciples that started after they got to Peter’s mother-in-law’s house in Capernaum. He was talking to them about humility and greatness. John, who for all of his letting Peter be the mouth of the group had an awfully high opinion of himself, piped in and boasted of his commitment to Jesus. He had seen someone waving around their brand without being a part of their group and moved to put a stop to it. As we talked about yesterday, this revealed he really hadn’t understood what Jesus was saying. His movement wasn’t an us-versus-them sort of deal. It’s much more of an us-for-them thing.
Thanks to John’s interpolation, the conversation had shifted in a slightly different direction from where Jesus started a few minutes before, but He begins to pivot a bit back in the direction He started. Receiving Him is the real mark of greatness and the way to receive Him is to receive the weak and vulnerable in His name. If someone is doing that – showing love to the weak and the vulnerable – they’re on the right track and we shouldn’t discourage them. But here He gets even more specific. When someone shows love to Jesus’ family members, He’s going to be committed to them just like you are committed to someone who loves your kids.
If you want to be right with Jesus, the best way to accomplish that is to love His children. Jesus here talks about giving a cup of water to someone. The act itself isn’t so important. It’s the nature of the act that matters. This kind of small, but intentional, act of love counts a whole lot more than we might imagine. What makes it count so much here though is not the act itself or even the intention behind it, but the reason for it. When you love one of Jesus’ family members because they are Jesus’ family members, you’re going to be in good with Jesus. When you give that cup of water in Jesus’ name to someone who is a Jesus follower because she is a Jesus follower, you’ve got the whole world going for you. Or, as Jesus Himself put it, you will never lose your reward. If loving the least of these gets Jesus’ attention, loving the believing least of these because they are the believing least of these puts Him over the moon.
On the other hand, if you don’t show love to Jesus’ family…well, He’s not okay with that. In fact, He’s very not okay with that. In fact, that very idea prompts some of the harshest words He is recorded as speaking in all of the Gospel accounts of His life and ministry. These words should make us uncomfortable. Jesus said that if you cause one of these little ones (and here He probably looked right at Peter’s little boy who was still sitting on His lap) who believe in Him to fall away, to give up their belief in Him, it would be better for you if a heavy millstone was tied around your neck and the stone was thrown into the sea.
Personally, other than perhaps burning to death, I can’t think of a worse way to die than drowning. There’s no pain involved, you’re just completely helpless to breath. It’s scary when we don’t have access to the air we need to live for even a few seconds. Having a giant rock tied to our neck and then tossed in the ocean would be horrifying. And Jesus said it would be better for you to have that happen than to face the wrath coming your way for leading someone away from Him.
So then, what do we do with this? Well, we keep this principle in mind at all times. How we treat people made in His image is a reflection of how we would treat Him. It is a reflection of what is in our heart. And just in case I’m not being clear: Every single person without exception is made in His image. This is all especially true when it comes to others of His followers. How you treat other people – for good or for ill – is a reflection of your relationship with Jesus. To treat them well in His name is to be right with Him. To treat them poorly is to be wrong with Him…very wrong with Him.
The law of His kingdom is love and there is no other. Of course, we need to understand love properly as an intentional decision to see someone else become more fully who God designed them to be. If we want to be on track with Jesus, loving one another in His name is the way to go. Anything else will set us apart from Him. The trouble is: there’s no life apart from Him. Let’s commit together to really living by loving one another well. There’s just no other way.