September 30, 2018 by
David Jackson in
Reflections on Sunday Gospels
Outsiders who are in and insiders who are out.
A theme sounded in Mark’s Gospel in different ways is: “Outsiders can do good and insiders can do bad.” It is announced clearly in today’s Gospel Passage.
In today’s reading it is John (an insider) who comes off badly. It isn’t just Peter who had difficulty and was rebuked by Jesus. John represents those people who must be in control. The arrogance in John’s objection lies in its attempt to erect boundaries around the exercise of compassionate ministry “In Jesus name.” John equates exorcism with status and power and wishes to maintain a monopoly over it. This is especially ludicrous in light of the disciples’ lack of exorcism power, which is described for us just prior to this incident. But more importantly, it cuts directly against the grain of “receiving” which Jesus called them and us to in 9:37. Jesus words are an invitation to include not exclude, to receive not reject. On top of all this, John’s censure is based on the fact that the stranger was not following them “he does not follow us”. The disciples want to be followed not to be followers. Never was the “royal we” less appropriate.
In today’s Gospel the apostles forbid a man from casting out demons because he is not part of their group of followers of Jesus. The disciples are told they belong to Christ. This name is powerful enough, not only to cast out demons, but to gather people into the person of Christ.
The same narrowness of vision is found in the first reading. Joshua complains that two Israelites are speaking for God with the power of God’s spirit. But they were not present when the seventy helpers received the Spirit in a special ceremony. Moses’ response is very similar to Jesus’: “Would that all the people were prophets! would that the Lord might bestow his spirit on them all.”
Not only is Jesus willing to endorse the redeeming practice of “outsiders,” he also endorses the simplest act of hospitality (“a cup of water”) shown to anyone “who belongs to Christ¼will surely not lose his reward.” John is worried about those with competing power, but Jesus is welcoming all those who do the works of mercy and justice. John is entertaining “holier than thou” delusions, but Jesus points out how his followers will often find themselves on the receiving end of compassion. It is practice, deeds, not the right name that is recognized in the kingdom. Anything done for those who belong to Christ will be appreciated by God.
Jesus now turns to show how, just as good can come from outside, betrayal can come from inside. Anything done to hurt or stand in the way of one who belongs to Christ deserves punishment.
This set of sayings addresses the problem of apostasy (those who renounced their faith). Mark’s community was facing the terrible reality of the breakdown of solidarity in the face of persecutions. The pressures of the war had caused some members not only to defect, but to betray other members (“little ones who believe”). How was this situation handled?
It has been argued that Mark’s advice of “amputation of the member that offended” is actually a way of advocating leniency. These people should have received the death penalty. Mark’s exhortation is calling for the expulsion (not the execution) of the informer/apostate, for the sake of the “whole body”.
Good from outside must be affirmed, and the bad inside cut out. But in the latter case, “receptivity” must finally include even the apostate: as we will see, forgiveness must stand at the center of the community’s life (11:25)
Think of an experience when God’s power or love came to you through an unlikely person.
What do you need to cut out of yourself or your life to be more fully alive?
Name a time when your action became an obstacle to God’s power working.