The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. Psalm 19:7
Everyone who was listening to Jesus speak the words of Mark 9:42 was familiar with psalm 19:7. The book of Psalms was the prayer book of faithful Jews, and Bonhoeffer calls the book of Psalms “Jesus’ prayer book.” Maybe Jesus prayed psalm 19 in the morning before the discourse in Mark 9:42. Jesus may have been thinking about the beauty and nourishment of God’s teachings. He may also have been thinking of all the issues he had to argue with Pharisees who twisted the law to suit themselves. Or perhaps he was simply reveling in the beauty of the psalmist’s meditation on God’s teaching for the good of people:
7 The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the decrees of the Lord are sure,
making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear,
enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the Lord is pure,
the ordinances of the Lord are true
and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey,
and drippings of the honeycomb. (Psalm 19:7-10)
The Psalmist’s view of God’s law, or Torah, is very different than the impression secular thinkers express. A search of secular sites will turn up comments about Christian teaching on almost any subject, and the comments are not complimentary. Christians are viewed as narrow-minded, oppressive, and even hateful. Christian views of sexuality are highly scorned. The very idea of sin, an offense against God, is rejected first, because secular thinkers reject any reality not bounded by time and space, and second, because secular thinkers reject the concept of absolute truth.
The Psalmist, on the other hand, found God’s teachings, revealed in books we call the Old Testament, to be inspiring and comforting. They made life rich and good. They called forth not only obedience but admiration. Among those teachings was the admonition that parents have the obligation to pass God’s teachings to their children. Each generation has the responsibility to assure that the next generation knows God’s teachings. While there may be institutions such as church, school or government that participate in the shaping of a child, God’s teachings lay that responsibility first and foremost on the parents. Parents who love God’s teachings the way the Psalmist did will not find this responsibility burdensome.
The beauty and comfort of God’s law as well as God’s expectations of parents was clearly in Christ’s thoughts as he spoke in the discourse recorded in Mark 9:
“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. “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.” Mark 9:42-50
Jesus here emphasizes the importance of leading “little ones” in the right path. It is certainly true that he didn’t limit the comments to parents and children. The value of his teaching applies to all Christian testimony to all people. Nevertheless, the relevance of Jesus’ words to parents, and adults in general, who try to share God’s teaching with children, is very obvious in this text. Christian parents struggle with this teaching as they combat a civil society attempting to inject its values into their daily lives. They try to teach their children biblical truth, but the secular culture in which they live sends strong counter-biblical messages. Schools, for example, increasingly treat all religions as variant myths about an imaginary spirit realm that has no reality in daily life.
This approach is in keeping with public pressure to teach without preference for one religion or other, a neutral stance most citizens could applaud. This push for neutrality, however, is increasingly moving beyond neutrality to outright hostility to religious teaching. For example, through the schools, the secular culture intrudes on the responsibility of parents to lead their children in the right path with regard to sexuality. Christians teach a view of sex rooted in the conviction that God created sex with a divine purpose to be enjoyed within a moral standard revealed in the Bible. As of January of 2012, The National Sexuality Education Standards, create programs for sex education in public schools beginning in kindergarten. The “Core Content and Skills, K-12” aggressively programs children to a secular view of sex, reproduction and families that is dramatically at odds with the worldview of most Christian parents. Christian parents might wish there were some form of punishment for those who insist on teaching a secular viewpoint so completely at odds with biblical teaching, but they cannot wish this curriculum away.
The law the Psalmist praises in Psalm 19, the teaching of God revealed in the Bible, teaches that sexuality is a beautiful gift from God, that reproduction is the fruit of a marriage between a man and a woman, and that families are built on this foundation. The marriage relationship between a man and a woman is the model God uses to teach his relationship with the church. The consummation of that relationship is the model for the end of the time/space reality. The Bible teaches that God loves all human beings, no matter what sin they choose in their brokenness, but the Bible does not teach that God blesses every variation on sexuality that humans choose to invent. In public schools, the secular view that all variants are equally valid in the eyes of the culture is the basis for the “Core Content and Skills” included in the National Sexuality Education Standards. The public school curriculum confuses children by asking them to figure out their gender identity, when they think they already know. The secular worldview asks children to experiment with different sexual orientations to figure what they like, even though children are told by their parents that God made sex for the joy and fulfillment of a man and a woman. Secular models for the meaning of the word “family” embodied in the sex education curriculum directly challenge the Christian teachings about family that Christian children receive at home.
Some people may dispute the involvement of activists for the LGBT political agenda in the creation of the National Sexuality Education Standards. It would be difficult to prove actual involvement, but it is easy to see the evidence of the embedding of that agenda in the standards. It is quite disturbing, all religious teaching concerns aside, to see a political agenda embodied in any teaching curriculum. The problem in this case is that political warfare is an arena where only adults should engage in the battles. Sadly, when a political agenda is embedded in teaching programs for kindergartners, those little children stand on the front lines of a very violent battle. The rhetoric of this confrontation is abusive and destructive, and no little child ought to be forced to stand in the middle of it. This is surely the sort of image Jesus envisioned when he spoke so forcefully about the way God feels when children are led astray and used by adults to achieve adult objectives.
This is the sort of crisis that requires Christian parents to exercise their faith with strength, persistence, endurance and love. Jesus said that “everyone will be salted with fire.” Many commentators link this statement with the Old Testament teaching that sacrifices to God should be salted (Leviticus 2:13). Any parent who tries to stand firm for Christian teaching in the face of the LGBT political agenda embodied in the National Sexuality Education Standards will quickly discover how it feels to be sacrificed, and it will certainly feel like being salted with fire.
It is a matter for deep and serious prayer. How do parents assure that their children learn the truth in an environment that teaches them something else altogether? Christian parents in the US need not feel alone in this battle. Christians around the world face similar problems. There are many countries where even reading the Bible is illegal, and anyone who teaches its precepts may see neighbors burn down his house while the police watch. All Christians must remember that Christ did not promise us that living the faith or even teaching the truth to our little ones would be easy. Christians must put their hope in Christ alone, learn to look at the world around them with God’s worldview, exercise the disciplines that strengthen their relationship with Christ, and respond to all acts of oppression and persecution with love and blessing. Even while Christian parents teach their children to ignore the false teaching about sexuality that they hear in school, they are equally obligated to pray lovingly for the blessing and enlightenment of the teachers whose words they reject. This is hard.
Jesus promised in today’s discourse that God will judge those who teach lies to children. Satan would really crow if Christians responded to these challenges by saying, “God’s going to get you for this.” Christians must be faithful to leave that judgment to God as they work lovingly to protect their children from ungodly influences in the culture. After all, Jesus died for everyone, including the activist who pushes the homosexual agenda and the teacher who teaches sex education to a secular standard because it is part of his or her job. Christians who rejoice in God’s grace in their own lives face this secular assault on biblical teaching about sexuality and family values must find in themselves the love of Christ to share with those who are enemies to their families and their children.
In today’s reading Jesus says, “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” (Mark 9:42) In the Sermon on the Mount he says, “You are the salt of the earth.” (Matthew 5:13) If the salt in today’s verse is the salt that sanctifies the sacrifice, we must recognize in Jesus’ words that we are the salt that sanctifies the world. We dare not allow our wounded egos or our fearful hurt feelings to overpower our commitment to give our testimony, our salt, to the earth. We must not let despair at the cultural invasion of our families steal our faith that God will work in the hearts of our children despite all the cultural pressure to turn away from him. We must be salt and keep the peace and give our testimony and sanctify the world.