Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Church Year and the Lectionary Commentary – 26th Ordinary (Day 4)



Mark 9:38-50
  38 John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone throwing demons out in your name, and we tried to stop him because he wasn’t following us.”
39 Jesus replied, “Don’t stop him. No one who does powerful acts in my name can quickly turn around and curse me. 40 Whoever isn’t against us is for us. 41 I assure you that whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will certainly be rewarded.
42 “As for whoever causes these little ones who believe in me to trip and fall into sin, it would be better for them to have a huge stone hung around their necks and to be thrown into the lake. 43  If your hand causes you to fall into sin, chop it off. It’s better for you to enter into life crippled than to go away with two hands into the fire of hell, which can’t be put out] 45  If your foot causes you to fall into sin, chop it off. It’s better for you to enter life lame than to be thrown into hell with two feet. 47 - If your eye causes you to fall into sin, tear it out. It’s better for you to enter God’s kingdom with one eye than to be thrown into hell with two. 48 That’s a place where worms don’t die and the fire never goes out] 49  Everyone will be salted with fire. 50  Salt is good; but if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? Maintain salt among yourselves and keep peace with each other.”

What a passage for the world we live in today! 

First, we have the disciples acting as exclusivists.  Demons are cast – as clear a sign of the in-breaking of God’s kingdom as we find in the gospels.  Only the one doing the exorcizing is not among the number of those who follow Jesus.  So the disciples acting to protect the integrity and honor of their master try to shut this exorcist down.  They proudly hurry back to report on this part of their “ministry” to Jesus.

Whatever praise or approval they expected from their master, they receive only a rebuke.  Perhaps remembering Jesus’ counsel in another situation, “Whoever isn’t with me is against me” (Mt.12:30), they felt justified in resisting the work of this exorcist.  They were drawing a circle around Jesus and declaring everything done by those outside this circle as blameworthy.  Sound familiar – a little?

Jesus, as he often does, pulls the rug out from under his disciples.  And when they have landed unceremoniously on their butts, he announces a new teaching:  Whoever isn’t against us is for us.

What?  But you said . . . and now you’re saying the opposite?  What’s up with that, Jesus?
It’s the kingdom of God, that’s what (v.47)!  The disciples have failed (again) to grasp the reality of God’s kingdom breaking in to human existence in Jesus.  It changes everything, especially religious stuff.  Nurtured in a nationalistic tradition that worked to establish and police the boundaries of God’s people, keeping God within those boundaries was second nature.  Jesus here, however, breaks the mold of their conceptions. 

God’s kingdom is breaking out in various ways all over the place both within and without the boundaries of national Israel, within and without the band of Jesus’ disciples.  The kingdom of God is larger than God’s people, larger than the church.  And whenever we see signs of the kingdom exhibited, we ought to rejoice and be glad.  Even if God’s work is not done by us, it is nonetheless being done and we ought to support those signs of kingdom life.

But Jesus is not through with the disciples.  Not by a long shot.  He turns from what is happening “out there” to what is happening among them.  This failure to grasp the truth about God’s kingdom he seems to liken to hindering others (“these little ones”) and themselves from entering God’s kingdom.  The violence of his language, drowning oneself, chopping off limbs, to avoid this possibility is a clear, if gruesome, index of the utter urgency of the matter.

The church serves the kingdom of God, not the other way round.  The church lives by the hope and horizons of the kingdom, not those of its own survival, security, or reputation.  The church pours out its life for the kingdom, not preserves its life for itself.

Trouble is coming for the nation and for Jesus’ followers – “everyone will be salted with fire” (v.49).  The nation is on a terrible crash course with destruction by trying to revolt against the Romans.  The word “salt” is an Old Testament word associated with covenant.  Jesus, in catch-word fashion, moves from the first metaphorical use of “salt” in v.49 to using it with this covenantal association for his followers.  If the covenant community loses its distinctiveness as witnesses to God’s kingdom, what good is it? 

Thus Jesus concludes with this admonition “Maintain salt among yourselves and keep peace with each other” (v.50).  Keep your eyes on God’s kingdom and embody God’s “shalom” among yourselves.  In this way you will both see and welcome signs of God’s kingdom wherever and through whomever they come.  And you will yourself be a sign of that kingdom for all to see.

Please God that this be true for us today, tomorrow, and every tomorrow God grants till kingdom come.

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