Monday, September 24, 2012

The Kingdom's Narrow Path. Homily for Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

Homily for 9.30.12
MARK  9:38-43, 45, 47-48  (see below)
Year B









The Lectionary Gospel reading for this morning brings to us the deepening of Jesus' teaching the disciples the meaning of: "drop their nets and follow thou me." 

 As they learned last week, this leaving all and following Jesus meant more than who would be the greatest, and this week they learned, perhaps to their horror, that they were not the only game in town.

The occasion for this conversation between Jesus and the disciples, then, which most commentators see as actually a compilation of Jesus-sayings revised by St. Mark into its present form, is when John says to Jesus:
"Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us."
That is, when John and presumably the others discovered that someone not of their franchised group was also ministering in Jesus' name, they took offense because this was seen as a direct threat to their exclusive calling by Jesus...
"he does not follow us..." reads the text.
Their attitude was clear: No new beginner need apply, we're in charge here and we’re the only game in town.

But, this was not Jesus' attitude at all, for he responds:
Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me.

For whoever is not against us is for us. Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.

Notice again Jesus' words:
Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.
which prompts the question: 
What then rules you out of the Kingdom, so that you lose your reward?

The answer seems to be if we would cause one to stumble. If we take the little one, or the new one who has just come to Christ, and bring about their fall, then watch out!

Notice, all along in Chapter Nine, Mark has Jesus teaching discipleship as to how it relates to the little ones and the least of these. Therefore, in this regard we are to:
"welcome them" (vs. 37)
"forbid them not" (vss. 38-41)
"not cause them to stumble" (vs.42)
In particular, and for our meditation today, then, we are not to cause these new ones, these little ones, to stumble. The form of the word here translated stumble has also been variously translated as: to be offended, to fall away, or to cause to sin. (go here)

What is Jesus saying? Well, first, he is teaching his followers that who is included in the Kingdom is not within our authority, or even within our concern! The call as to who is included in Christ's Kingdom belongs to Christ alone. Therefore, the mere fact that someone does not use our name or our set of understandings does not rule out their Kingdom-inclusion, but it does rule out our contempt. No, if the work is done in the name of Jesus, that is, with his authority and in his power, then not only is it legitimate, but it also will be rewarded when Jesus' kingdom fully comes!

This means, clearly, we must receive those whom we would normally reject just because they are not of our group. Or, as R.T France puts it: "Human considerations of whose in and whose out must be subverted."

Well, I think we would all agree that we in the Western church are much too far down the road of exclusivism to accomplish this, or to learn how to love others who follow Jesus by a different name than ours. Humanly speaking, this will never happen. Even so, I wonder if this means we are also doomed to destroy those different from us?

I confess this is a struggle for me. Honestly, I can barely stomach the televangelists. In fact, I could easily list what I see as the many faults that disqualify them from being taken seriously. But, if I am to be shaped by today's text, then this attitude is wrong. These ministries name the name of Jesus and, therefore, while I do not have to practice their ways -- they are not of my group, I must not tear down what they do -- for Jesus decides if they are of his group, not me, just as he decides if I am of his group.

I am working on this and trying to do better. Why? Because others watch me; others, and some of these others may be younger believers, may take on my attitude and may stumble because of it -- GOD forbid!

What else is Jesus saying? Second, he is teaching his followers that to enter the Kingdom is the primary concern and that nothing must stop us from relinquishing all for that calling!

Notice:
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut if off. It is better for you to enter into life crippled than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna.

And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna...
Of course, most commentators agree that Jesus is using figurative language here, an exaggeration for emphasis. As Lamar Williamson tells us in his commentary on Mark:
"The surpassing value of entering the Kingdom of God makes every other good expendable." (pg. 172)
Here, we are challenged to see what it is about our lives that stands in the way of a full reception of the Kingdom message and practice offered by Jesus. I am reminded of the passage from St. Matthew's Gospel, where Jesus offers his followers a similar and parallel challenge:
36 Then, leaving the crowds outside, Jesus went into the house. His disciples said, "Please explain the story of the weeds in the field." 37 "All right," he said. "I, the Son of Man, am the farmer who plants the good seed. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed represents the people of the Kingdom. The weeds are the people who belong to the evil one. 39 The enemy who planted the weeds among the wheat is the Devil. The harvest is the end of the world, and the harvesters are the angels. 40 "Just as the weeds are separated out and burned, so it will be at the end of the world. 41 I, the Son of Man, will send my angels, and they will remove from my Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil, 42 and they will throw them into the furnace and burn them. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the godly will shine like the sun in their Father's Kingdom. Anyone who is willing to hear should listen and understand! 44 "The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field -- and to get the treasure, too! 45 "Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a pearl merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. 46 When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!  (Mt.13:36-46)

Who are the wheat and who are the weeds? The wheat represents the people of the Kingdom who are planted next to the weeds! At the end the King sends his workers into the fields to remove anything that causes sin, and returns the Kingdom to the rest. So, how do we become part of the Kingdom? We see the Kingdom as the most prized of all possessions, and we sell all we have for it! Or, as we heard from today's Gospel reading, we willingly lose our anything and everything else for the sake of the Kingdom! 

The path to the Jesus' Kingdom is narrow, craggy and fraught with danger...
“Anyone who is willing to hear should listen and understand!”

_______________________________________

MARK 9:38-43, 45, 47-48 
At that time, John said to Jesus,
"Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name,
and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us."
Jesus replied, "Do not prevent him.
There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name
who can at the same time speak ill of me.
For whoever is not against us is for us.
Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink
because you belong to Christ, 
amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.

"Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,
it would be better for him if a great millstone
were put around his neck
and he were thrown into the sea.
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.
It is better for you to enter into life maimed
than with two hands to go into Gehenna,
into the unquenchable fire.
And if your foot causes you to sin, cut if off.
It is better for you to enter into life crippled
than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna.
And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.
Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye
than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna,
where 'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'"