“For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ, will by no means lose his reward.[Do not stop there, for the sentence goes right on in the original language. “And… ] Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” (Mark 9:40-41 RSV)
Remember that Jesus speaks these words with his arms still around the little child. What he is saying is that the mark of true greatness in his kingdom is that someone takes humanity seriously, and longs to see it develop rightly. The slightest ministry to a young believer is rewarded by God. Even a cup of cold water given in the name of Christ will never lose its reward. Every opportunity taken to help someone develop into fullness of health spiritually, as well as in soul and body, is to be rewarded by God. But on the other hand, any damage, any spiritual injury to a young Christian, is more serious than murder or physical injury: “Better for him that a great millstone be hung round his neck and he be cast into the depths of the sea, than to cause one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble.”
I remember a number of years ago reading a short story by O. Henry, in which he told of a little girl whose mother had died. When the father would come home from work, he would fix their meal, then he would sit down with his paper and pipe, put his feet up on the mantle, and read. The little girl would come and say, “Father, would you play with me?” And he would say, “No, I’m too tired, I’m too busy. Go out in the street and play.” This went on for so long that finally the little girl grew up on the streets, and became what we would call a “streetwalker,” a prostitute. Eventually she died, and when, in the story, her soul appeared at the gates of heaven, Peter said to Jesus, “Here’s this prostitute. Shall we send her to hell?” Jesus said, “No, no; let her in. But go find the man who refused to play with his little girl, and send him to hell.”
Here in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is saying that neglect is sometimes the greatest injury done to children, and to young believers, and that we must recognize this as a serious matter.
By Michael Scherer of Time Magazine
President Obama will release a “fiscally responsible” budget for the country today, his aides say. This is not news. It happened last year. And the year before. And the year before. In Obama’s first year, he was so confident, he called his budget “A New Era of Responsibility.”
Except, it wasn’t. And never really has been. Because the fiscally responsible part is always projected to begin a few years in the future, and each year, as a new budget comes out, White House aides have also revised their projections. What they believed to be responsible before was not so responsible after all. The deficits were larger than they expected. The economy grew slower. The debt was bigger.
There is some disagreement over just what “fiscally responsible” means. Some liberals believe there is no real risk of running up too much debt, given the demonstrated willingness of the world to buy our bonds, so it is responsible to accept our high deficits. Some conservatives believe that any deficits are a moral outrage that will turn our children into chattel or preface armageddon, so it is responsible to embrace austerity. For the purposes of this post, I am defining “fiscally responsible” as it is most often meant by the White House: charting a path to deficit levels that roughly stabilizes the size of the debt as a percentage of GDP.
In 2009, Obama’s propeller heads predicted the deficits in 2012 would be about 4.6% of GDP, or just slightly higher than the growth of the economy. Three years later, Obama’s number crunchers were saying that the 2012 deficit would be 7.2% of GDP, which means the original prediction was off by about 50%. Why? The biggest reason is that the financial crisis was worse than predicted, and the recovery has been slower, lowering tax revenue. It’s also true that Congress never puts a White House budget into law, but as this chart by The Washington Post’s Dylan Matthews shows, had Obama had his way, the deficits would likely have been worse, not better. The budget that Congress passed in 2009 was 3% smaller that Obama wanted; it was 7% smaller in 2010.
But the pattern in the Obama administration has been remarkably consistent: Presidential budgets are a terrible source for predicting the fiscal responsibility of the U.S. government. Here is a line chart I made showing the deficit projections Obama made in each of his first four budgets, as a percentage of GDP. As you can see, each year the short-term projections tend to get a little worse.
The number crunchers across the street from the White House are not fudging the numbers. The problem is that lawmakers do not have complete control over deficits. The economy matters, and the official numbers have not been good at predicting what will happen.
The other thing worth mentioning here is that in discussions of fiscal responsibility, the President’s budget is often a distraction. The real problems with spending and taxation have little to do with what Obama likes most to talk about: new bridges, pre-K education, tax loopholes for the very wealthy. They have to do with long term trends—a decrease in tax rates and revenue over the last decades, and an increase in the cost of health care. The graphic designers at the U.S. Treasury clearly illustrate this point:
Larger copy of the chart HERE.
Any long term solution to the high deficits will most certainly arise from addressing these areas. And that deal, if it happens anytime soon, will not be found in the Obama budget document, though his recent embrace of cuts to Social Security and Medicare may be a step in that direction.
UPDATE: I have added below another line (in teal) to my chart, showing the deficit projections as a percentage of GDP from the most recent budget, fiscal year 2014, which was released Wednesday afternoon. You will see that the deficit estimates for the most immediate year are once again higher than they were predicted to be last year, the year before, the year before that, etc. Not exactly the kind of projections you want to take to the bank, or bond market. To read the whole budget, see here.
The victorious Christian neither exalts nor downgrades himself. His interests have shifted from self to Christ. What he is or is not no longer concerns him. He believes that he has been crucified with Christ and he is not willing either to praise or deprecate such a man.
Yet the knowledge that he has been crucified is only half the victory. “Nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Christ is now where the man’s ego was formerly. The man is now Christ-centered instead of self-centered, and he forgets himself in his delighted preoccupation with Christ.
Candor compels me to acknowledge that it is a lot easier to write about this than it is to live it. Self is one of the toughest plants that grows in the garden of life. It is, in fact, indestructible by any human means. Just when we are sure it is dead it turns up somewhere as robust as ever to trouble our peace and poison the fruit of our lives.
Yet there is deliverance. When our judicial crucifixion becomes actual the victory is near; and when our faith rises to claim the risen life of Christ as our own the triumph is complete. The trouble is that we do not receive the benefits of all this until something radical has happened in our own experience, something which in its psychological effects approaches actual crucifixion. What Christ went through we also must go through. Rejection, surrender, loss, a violent detachment from the world, the pain of social ostracism - all must be felt in our actual experience.
Where we have failed is in the practical application of the teaching concerning the crucified life. Too many have been content to be armchair Christians, satisfied with the theology of the cross. Plainly Christ never intended that we should rest in a mere theory of self-denial. His teaching identified His disciples with Himself so intimately that they would have had to be extremely dull not to have understood that they were expected to experience very much the same pain and loss as He Himself did.
The healthy soul is the victorious soul and victory never comes while self is permitted to remain unjudged and uncrucified. While we boast or belittle we may be perfectly sure that the cross has not yet done its work within us. Faith and obedience will bring the cross into the life and cure both habits.