A Provocation: Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost: September 30, 2018: Mark 9:38-50

Mark 9:38-50
9:38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”

9:39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.

9:40 Whoever is not against us is for us.

9:41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

9:42 “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.

9:43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.

9:45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell.

9:47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell,

9:48 where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

9:49 “For everyone will be salted with fire.

9:50 Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”


Another short Provocation (during the second week of the run of Real as Air).

Jesus says something surprising in this scene.  Religion is often used to separate Us from Them.  Even Jesus uses it like that, and even does so in Mark’s story.

But not in this scene.

The disciples are glad to defend the border between Us and Them.  They see it as being marked by whether or not people follow Jesus the way they do.  Anyone who does is one of Us.  Anyone else is one of Them.

It is easy enough to understand this.  In tough times, external pressure pops the seams that had stitched us all together.  People start asking, along with the Labor organizers in the 1930s, “Which Side Are You On?”

That is a good question, and understandable.  Those with power and the advantage of position apply pressure that aims to anger and isolate their opponents.  Those who have little power and no advantages recognize that this pressure drives people apart.  At such times, people sing songs that ask which side you are on.  Are you with Us, or are you one of those people who hopes, weakly, that people with power are interested in reason?

It is a necessary question.

But in this scene, Jesus (who understands pressure exerted by cynical power very well indeed) says: “Whoever is not against us is for us.”

He is not capitulating to power.  Quite the opposite, he is noting something that people with power and position know, and fear: their power is temporary and, in part, illusory.  That is why people who can see political reversals on the horizon become more cynical and less interested in good process and sound arguments.  They see that their efforts to fragment the opposition by applying pressure sometimes has the opposite effect.

Cynics with power know in the pit of their stomachs that there are more of Us than there are of Them.  We do not agree on all things, and we often do not even imagine cooperating.  But sometimes external pressure pushes Us together and we discover that what Jesus said is right: Whoever is not against us is for us.

This might be a good time to consider this.  Cynical power is getting nervous.


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