Whoever Is Not Against Us Is For Us
Mark 9: 38 — 48
We are currently in a series of Gospel readings which reflect perennial values in the Christian spiritual life. These reflections help build our understanding of the way our Lord taught them to his first disciples, who have passed on his teaching for all future disciples.
One of the most common difficulties for Jesus is that the disciples are constantly trying to project the way of the world on to his mission. He has to work very hard at training them to reverse this process.
In our current text we can discern that it is actually a cluster of sayings of Jesus put together by Mark, but not necessarily all spoken on the one occasion. We will group them as verses 38 — 40, then verses 41 and 42, and finally, verses 43 — 48. The teaching is straightforward and we will utilise the commentary by J. C. Ryle as it resembles closely our own perceptions.
Verses 38 - 40
Ryle makes two very sound observations. First he explains that good things, many good deeds, are performed at times by people outside our own sphere of culture and religion: The second, that we must respect religious traditions or cultures which are different from our own. When we see people beyond our own traditions doing good deeds we need to respect the fact that God himself authorises such persons, since it is he who performs the good in them.
Verses 41 and 42
Dr. Albert Barnes gives us a helpful comment on verse 41:
Verse 42 is a clear warning of the extreme seriousness of misleading another away from the teaching our Lord has commanded us to pass on to future generations. Our Lord attaches a very severe punishment for any such offence, thus drawing attention to the necessity of assessing carefully the effects of our teaching and example.
Verses 43 — 48
In an age when a teacher had to rely on oral imagery to create a lasting effect on his listeners, Jesus was eminently successful. Many people today, even if they are unclear about the spiritual meaning of this passage, are still very familiar with our Lord's illustration. The imagery is so extreme and horrendous that it is repulsive, and that is exactly what is intended. Sin, in the teaching of Jesus, is so serious, that we are bound to take every measure within our reach, to minimise the occurrence. We know what leads us into occasions of compromise, and Jesus expects each person to audit their own actions and take appropriate steps. That is hard, as he has often acknowledged, but the alternative is worse! For further reflection on this passage read: Ryle On Mark 9: 43 — 48.
(Note: Most modern versions of St Mark's Gospel omit verses 44 and 46 in Chapter 9. They are both identical with verse 48, and are thought to be a later addition in classical style to balance the structure of the text. They do not constitute a tampering with the sacred text.)
This text deals with genuine difficulties. Typical of the teaching of Jesus, it spells out clearly what is required, and if meditated upon, will help show the way ahead.
We close with a short reflection:
A sympathetic, understanding outlook and the refusal of spiritual and religious monopolies should characterise the disciples of Christ. Joshua failed to understand the prophetic charism of the two men who had not come to the Tent of Meeting. John could not understand how people could expel demons in the name of Jesus without belonging to the Twelve. As for ourselves, how frequently, under pretext of orthodoxy, do we identify belonging to Jesus with some kind of exclusive option of a denominational, social or even political kind? No one can take possession of the Spirit of the risen One: he is greater than any human group, any social movement, any religious family. He rejects all ecclesiastical provincialism, every pretension to monopolise the dynamism of which he is the source.
From: Glenstal Bible Missal
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