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Refections on the Gospel, Week before September 30 2012

Mark 9:38-50

 38John 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.” 39But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40Whoever is not against us is for us. 41For 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.

42“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. 43If 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. 45And 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. 47And 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, 48where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

49“For everyone will be salted with fire. 50Salt 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 I am Learning:

This is a challenging text!

It comes right after last week's text, in which Jesus tells his disciples that they are not to compete for status within the community. In this text, Jesus tells them not to worry about status within the larger public.

John asks him to forbid someone they didn't know from healing in Jesus' name. To heal in someone's name means to be operating in their authority, in the same way that an ambassador operates in the authority of a president. But this person was doing this without having direct authorization from Jesus and the disciples wanted to control the franchise.

Jesus was not starting a new religious franchise. He was calling people to participate in the inbreaking and emerging reign of God. And if someone was participating in it, then that is good enough. None of us have exclusive claim to the reign of God—after all it belongs to God and not to us. So when we see someone else participating in that reign in a way that is different from us, we are not to play status games with them, but to support them.

The next paragraph is about what happens when we do play status games. For while Jesus wants to keep the reign of God open to everyone, it does have a certain character. I think he was trying to create a community in which people live in mutuality with one another. What he is basically telling them is that when we search for status over others we see as being small or having no honor (the little ones), this reveals that WE are not centered in the reign of God. If something is drawing us away from this, then we need to do something radical to change it—even when such change in painful or takes a great deal of effort.

Optional Notes:

Little Ones: Means having little honor or status

Salt:  Salt was considered a pure substance. It was included in offerings of cereal at the altar (Leviticus 2:13). Thus it represents a part of covenant faithfulness. Salt is necessary for life. Salt was used as a catalytic in fire for cooking. Once it lost its catalytic power, it was thrown out of the house. Jesus is calling his disciples to set aside the search for status and power over others and remain in the purity of the covenant with God and community.

Hell:  The word here is Gehenna. It was an area outside of Jerusalem in which child sacrifice used be practiced. This practice was called Molech. Jeremiah speaks out against it. When the practice was finally stopped, the place of the sacrifices became the dump of Jerusalem. Fires always burned there and dead animals were put there. Gehenna then, is not the middle ages notion of hell, but rather a symbol of banned religious practices belonging in the dump.  Jesus is asking them to throw their need for power and status in the dump along with child sacrifice.