SCRIPTURE: Mark 9:38-50
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VERSES 38-50: OVERVIEW
Jesus is "on the way" (8:27; 9:33), a code phrase for his journey to Jerusalem and the cross. He has been working miracles, but now he shifts his emphasis to preparing the disciples for what lies ahead.
VERSES 38-41: WHOEVER IS NOT AGAINST US IS FOR US
38John said to him, "Teacher, we saw someone who doesn't follow us casting out demons in your name; and we forbade him, because he doesn't follow us." 39But Jesus said, "Don't forbid him, for there is no one who will do a mighty work in my name, and be able quickly to speak evil of me. 40For whoever is not against us is on our side. 41For whoever will give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because you are Christ's, most certainly I tell you, he will in no way lose his reward."
John is one of three disciples -- Peter, James, and John -- privileged to be with Jesus on several special occasions, such as the transfiguration (9:2). However, the Gospels also present these privileged three as quick to say the wrong thing. Peter protested when Jesus told the disciples about his upcoming cross. Elsewhere, James and John show too much ambition. Here John is again guilty.
There is a note of frustration in John's comment. As long as the exorcist works successfully "in your name," his success diminishes the unique status of the twelve.
"But Jesus said, 'Don't forbid him, for there is no one who will do a mighty work in my name, and be able quickly to speak evil of me. For whoever is not against us is on our side'" (vv. 39-40). The disciples drew a circle to keep the exorcist out, but Jesus re-draws the circle to include him in.
Jesus calls the disciples to a more inclusive vision. "For whoever is not against us is on our side" (v. 40). We need to hear that in a church fragmented along many lines. We are always tempted to regard Christians from the other side of the line as inferior -- or not as Christians at all.
However, acceptance of other Christians does not require us to give up all discernment -- to overlook obvious abuses or errors.
"For whoever will give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because you are Christ's, most certainly I tell you, he will in no way lose his reward" (v. 41). Elsewhere, Jesus calls us to love enemies and to help vulnerable people generally, but his blessing here is directed to those who help Christians -- those who "are Christ's."
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VERSES 42-48: STUMBLING BLOCKS & LITTLE ONES
42"Whoever will cause one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, (Greek: skandalise –– causes to stumble) it would be better for him if he were thrown into the sea with a millstone (Greek: mulos onikos –– a donkey millstone –– a large millstone) hung around his neck. 43If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having your two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire, 44'where their worm doesn't die, and the fire is not quenched.' 45If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life lame, rather than having your two feet to be cast into Gehenna, (geennan) into the fire that will never be quenched— 46'where their worm doesn't die, and the fire is not quenched.' 47If your eye causes you to stumble, cast it out. It is better for you to enter into the Kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into the Gehenna (geennan) of fire, 48'where their worm doesn't die, and the fire is not quenched.'"
These "little ones" (v. 42a) are not children but rather "little ones who believe in me" -- believers of new or delicate faith -- little in the sense that they are vulnerable.
"it would be better for him if he were thrown into the sea with a millstone (mulos onikos -- a donkey millstone) hung around his neck" (v. 42). There are small human-powered millstones and larger donkey-powered millstones. Jesus specifies the larger mulos onikos -- a donkey-powered millstone. Jesus is using hyperbole -- exaggerated language -- to dramatize the danger of causing injury to "little ones."
"If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off" (v. 43). Again, as in v. 42, Jesus uses hyperbole -- exaggerated language -- to dramatize his point. The preacher must handle vv. 43-47 carefully, lest a "little one" in the congregation hear these verses as a call to self-mutilation.
Discipleship does sometimes require amputations. We need to amputate bad habits -- resentments -- ambitions that cause us to act unethically.
The word hell translated is the Greek geennan or Gehenna. The name is derived from the valley of Hinnom, a ravine outside Jerusalem where Ahaz practiced human sacrifice (2 Chron. 28:3; 33:6; Jer. 7:31; 32:35). King Josiah brought such practices to a halt by declaring the valley unclean and using it as a garbage dump (2 Kings 23:10).
VERSES 49-50: SALT & FIRE
49"For everyone will be salted with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt. 50Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, with what will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another."
The sayings of vv. 49-50 appear to be three independent sayings that Mark brings together because they all refer to salt.
"For everyone will be salted with fire" (v. 49). temple sacrifices require both salt and fire (Lev. 2:13). Jesus seems to suggest here that the disciples will experience persecution -- a present reality at the time that Mark wrote this Gospel.
"Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, with what will you season it?" (v. 50a). Salt found on the shores of the Dead Sea is often intermixed with impurities so that it is no longer good for seasoning.
"Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another" (v. 50b). "'In yourselves' is probably to be taken corporately instead of individually: 'Have salt in yourselves,' that is, in your common life" (Hare, 119). Jesus calls the disciples to live peaceably in their life together.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Barclay, William, Gospel of Mark (Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press, 1954)
Brueggemann, Walter; Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV -- Year B (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993)
Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holladay, Carl R.; Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, B (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1993)
Donahue, John R. and Harrington, Daniel J., Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of Mark (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 2002)
Edwards, James R., The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002)
Evans, Craig A., Word Biblical Commentary: Mark 8:27 -- 16:20 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001)
Geddert, Timothy J., Believers Church Bible Commentary: Mark (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2001)
Grant, Frederick C. and Luccock, Halford E., The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 7 (Nashville: Abingdon, 1951)
Hare, Douglas R. A., Westminster Bible Companion: Mark (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996)
Hooker, Morna D., The Gospel According to Saint Mark (Hendrickson Publishers, 1991)
Lane, William L., The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974)
Perkins, Pheme, The New Interpreter's Bible, Vol. VIII (Nashville: Abingdon, 1995)
Williamson, Lamar Jr., Interpretation: Mark (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1983)
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