Whoever Is Not Against Us Is For Us

Ordinary 26B

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

"Teacher," said John, "we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us."

"Do not stop him," Jesus said. "No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me,

for whoever is not against us is for us.

Here is a golden rule indeed, and one that human nature sorely needs, and has too often forgotten. Men of all branches of Christ's Church are apt to think that no good can be done in the world unless it is done by their own party and denomination. They are so narrow-minded that they cannot conceive the possibility of working on any other pattern but that which they follow. They make an idol of their own peculiar ecclesiastical machinery, and can see no merit in any other. They are like him who cried when Eldad and Medad prophesied in the camp, "My lord Moses, forbid them." (Num 11: 28).

Let us be on our guard against this feeling. It is only too near the surface of all our hearts. Let us study to realise that liberal tolerant spirit which Jesus here recommends, and be thankful for good works wheresoever and by whomsoever done. Let us beware of the slightest inclination to stop and check others, merely because they do not choose to adopt our plans, or work by our side. We may think our fellow-Christians mistaken in some points. We may fancy that more would be done for Christ if they would join us, and if all worked in the same way. We may see many evils arising from religious dissensions and divisions. — But all this must not prevent us rejoicing if the works of the devil are destroyed and souls are saved. Is our neighbour warring against Satan? Is he really trying to labour for Christ? This is the grand question. Better a thousand times that the work should be done by other hands than not done at all. Happy is he who knows something of the spirit of Moses, when he said, "Would God that all the Lord's people were prophets"; — and of Paul, when he says, "If Christ is preached, I rejoice, yea, and will rejoice."
(Num 11: 29; Phil 1: 18)

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

I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.

"And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.

Dr. Albert Barnes gives us a helpful comment on verse 41:

How easy it is to be a Christian! What is easier than to give a cup of cold water to a thirsty disciple of Jesus! But it must be in his name — that is, because he is a Christian, and therefore from love to the Saviour. This is very different from giving it from a mere motive of common kindness. If done from love to Christ, it will be rewarded; and hence we learn that the humblest acts of Christians, the lowest service that is rendered, will be graciously noticed by Jesus, and rewarded. None are so humble in his kingdom as not to be able to do good; and none so poor that, in his circumstances, may not show attachment to him. Their feeblest service will be accepted; and acts of love, that may be forgotten by man, will be remembered by him, and rewarded in heaven.

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

If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out.

And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell.

And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell,

where "their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched".

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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