Trinity 18 Mark 9:38-50
In the Gospel account the disciples are getting themselves in a bit of a lather because someone has dared to use the name of their Master without being formally admitted to their little band. Here we encounter the ‘them and us’ dilemma encountered by all kinds of secular and sacred organisations down the ages.
Questions have to be answered in order to be part of the group. In church circles it could sound something like:
What are your credentials?
Where did you go to school?
Where did you train?
Are you one of us?
It is all too easy to filter people through our own list of prejudice to make sure anything wrong is identified. Such as wrong colour, wrong collar, wrong college.
Are they too happy clappy, or perhaps the other way and too bells and smells.
Are they too stiff and starchy, too emotional or are they only here for the beer?
After all they have to fit in with ‘us’!
The disciples made it quite clear that is what they thought of their little band. “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him because he was not following us.” On the whole we don’t like the stranger who claims to be one of us without going through the proper process – but Jesus shows us we may be wrong!
You can almost hear the exasperation in Jesus voice in his reply – it sounds like he is beginning to loose it a bit.
“Do not stop him – no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me.”
Of course we know that the criteria for ministry of any kind is not style or tradition or even denomination, but that the name of Jesus be lifted up and glorified.
In the next few verses Jesus appears to be very harsh, it could almost sound like he was quoting an excerpt from the Moslem Shariah law, cutting of a hand or a foot or putting out an eye. Of course we know that he is not calling us to physical mutilation, but rather spiritual amputation– that is the cutting out the harmful practices from our lives. The hand, foot and eye encompass the totality of life.
The hand symbolises what we DO, the foot symbolises where we GO and the eye what we SEE. His logic is compelling and very simple. It is better to clean up our fleeting lives here than to face God at the end with all the rubbish intact. It is interesting that Jesus makes a personal act, your hand, your foot, your eye.
Jesus is asking the wider questions ~ are there places where your feet carry you that you have no business being? Are there hidden things that you do, which perhaps only you know about? Things which if someone else knew about you would be most embarrassed? What are we looking at on the internet, in books and magazines, things which we do not want anyone to know about? How much time do we spend on our own pleasures and how much time reading God’s word. Jesus says the ball is in our court; make sure we don't cause others to stumble by following our bad examples and make sure we don’t cause ourselves to stumble either. Way ahead of his time, Jesus is calling for zero tolerance.
Mark is writing this account years after Jesus had ascended. He was not one of the original 12 disciples and certainly would not have heard the conversation first hand. His gospel is one of the shortest, and he writes in a very clipped style only giving us the bare facts, so it is easy to imagine what might have gone in the gaps. The last verse we heard this morning was about salt.
I have visions of this conversation taking place at the table. And Jesus picks up the salt.
Salt – in today’s society it is undervalued, overlooked, relegated to a plastic salt cellar, rationed in a twist of paper in the Little Chef or banned altogether from our cooking.
Common salt halts the process of decay, it preserves food and stops the rot. Jesus said ‘Salt is good,” have salt in yourselves, go and be salt. His call to be ‘salt’ was a challenge for his disciples and that includes us as we are followers or disciples of Jesus. We are to be a preserving influence in a decaying world. We can stop the rot.
Lastly be the salt that adds flavour to life; salt stimulates thirst, we need to make the world thirsty for him. Jesus wants us to cultivate our saltiness, and he has given us three easy ways to do just that.
Firstly we are to live in such a way that that not one his little ones is caused to stumble. We are to be open, honest, loving, accepting and tolerant of all people, regardless of colour, race, religion or none, sexual orientation.
Secondly he does not want us to stumble if there is anything in our life that offends, sort it out.
Finally be at peace with one another. It is not enough just to wander around during the peace shaking hands and smiling, or not. Being at peace is something else altogether. It means seeking people out and if there have been any harsh words, any misunderstandings, put them right. Never let the sun go down on your anger. Say you are sorry even if you know you were right.
On a personal note. I was privileged to be with Pauline Parker during the last weeks of her life and the few hours before she died – there was a lady who knew how to be at peace. In all the years I have known her I never heard a critical word pass her lips. She had accepted her illness with grace and never complained, and she was at peace with her God.
She was an example to us all as to how to be at peace with one another. Amen