On the Offensive

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By: Raymond Harris

Note to the Reader
Generally as we begin a new month, we begin examining a new book. However, as we begin this month, we will continue our examination of the Gospel of Mark. As such, I encourage you to invest additional time reading the Gospel in conjunction with this article.

Passage: Mark 9, mc Mark 9.33-50, vv 9.42

On the Offensive

Today’s thought will come from one verse. I will offer some thoughts about “whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me.” Our world is filled with things we find offensive, as in repugnant, disgusting, revolting, nauseating; these seem to be the things that we feel like we should avoid at all costs. Yet, Jesus tells us that offences will exist.1 I guess the real issue is can the “provoking one another to love and good works”2 become offensive?

What Is a Little One?
It seems proper to clarify that the phrase “little ones.” The phrase appears in the Gospels six times.3 It is found four times in Matthew, once in Mark and once in Luke. Without trying to get overly analytical, it is important to identify that each group of “little ones” seems to be a different group. You, the reader, might ask, “Why is this important?” it is actually very important. Because, as disciples of Jesus, we want to make sure that we are living up to the idea of being “salt of the earth”. Awareness of who can be offended is now crucial to taking the Good News.

Lost Sheep of Israel Are Little Ones
In Matthew, the phrase “little ones” is found in chapters Ten and Eighteen. In Matthew Ten, Jesus sends his disciples to “the lost sheep of Israel.”4 While Jesus provides lots of instructions for this mission, one of the instructions is about giving a “drink unto one of these little ones… .” To me, this is interesting. Jesus did not caution against offending the “little ones” of the “lost sheep of Israel” instead it seems that he is encouraging his disciples to serve the “little ones” “the lost sheep” by giving them water, physical and spiritual water.

Converts Are Little Ones
In Matthew Eighteen, “little ones” is used by Jesus after he takes a “little child” and places that child “in the midst of them.”5 It seems that it would be natural to assume that Jesus is actually referring to literal “little children” but he is not, in verse three, Jesus says, “except you be converted, and become as little children” (emphasis mine) meaning that Jesus is using the literal child as a simile. This means that Jesus is cautioning his disciples not to despise6 those who are converted and are like a “little child”. Strong’s says that despise means “to think against, that is, disesteem” and Thayer says that despise means “think little or nothing of.” It seems that Jesus is giving a powerful warning to the disciples to be very careful because God does not want the “little ones” to be lost.7

Those That Are Lost Are Little Ones
In Luke, the phrase “little ones” is found in Chapter Seventeen. While the “little ones” in Luke are a little more difficult to contextually see, the context of “little ones” actually seems to have its origins back in chapter Fifteen and Jesus used parables to talk about “seeking and saving the lost”. Jesus’ use of “little ones” comes after he speaks of the “Unjust Steward”8 after the Pharisees “derided” Jesus9 for his comments, and after Jesus spoke about “The Rich Man and Lazarus.”10 It seems proper to conclude that Jesus interpreted the behavior of the Pharisees as being “offensive” to those Jews who did not live exactly the way the Pharisees lived. So, Jesus warns his disciples not to be offensive to “little ones” because it would be better to be drowned than offend someone’s faith in God.11

People Doing Things in Jesus Name are Little Ones
Now we come to Mark, the book we are studying today. In Mark, the phrase “little ones” is found in Chapter Nine. In this chapter Jesus will use this phrase in yet another application. Jesus’ use of “little ones” does not occur until John declares that he and the other disciples “forbade” a man from working miracles in Jesus’ name.12 Jesus not only told them not to forbid,13 he said that the other man was actually for Jesus.14 It is a couple of statements later that Jesus told John and the other disciples not to offend such a “little one” because it would be better that they be drowned than offend someone’s faith in God.15

Reflection and Conclusion
As a disciple, yet also as a minister, I am becoming increasingly aware of the challenges of not offending “little ones”. Dear Reader, please do not take this as an accusation, it is simply a statement of awareness. It is quite possible, that I am a “little one” who needs not to be offended. All I can really say is that Jesus goes to great lengths to caution and warn his disciples to not offend, yet we have Scriptures that tell us to “provoke one another to love and good works.” All that can be reiterated is that we need to be truly tender and merciful as we encourage each other to grow and mature into the fullness of Christ. May the LORD bless us as we seek to not offend the little ones.

1. “Offences will exist.” Luke 17.1.
2. “Provoking one another to love and good works.” Hebrews 10.24.
3. “Little ones.” Matthew 10.42, 18.6, 18.10, 18.14; Mark 9.42; Luke 17.2; e-Sword version 8.0.6.
4. “The lost sheep of Israel.” Matthew 10.6.
5. “Child in the midst of them.” Matthew 18.2-5.
6. “Disciples not to despise” Matthew 18.10.
7. “God does not want the “little ones” to be lost.” Matthew 18.14.
8. “Unjust Steward.” Luke 16.1-13.
9. “Pharisees ‘derided’ Jesus.” Luke 16.14.
10. “The Rich Man and Lazarus.” Luke 16.19-31.
11. “Better to be drowned than offend someone’s faith in God.” Luke 17.2.
12. “Working miracles in Jesus’ name.” Mark 9.38.
13. “Not to forbid.” Mark 9.39.
14. “The other man was actually for Jesus.” Mark 9.40.
15. “Better to be drowned than offend someone’s faith in God.” Mark 9.42.