Vol.5 No.3 DoM Gospel Reflection—Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
26th Sunday Ordinary Time
By Sharon Stanford
This gospel reading from Mark seems to introduce two unrelated themes. The first theme is who can do the work of God? Who can do works of grace in Jesus’ name? Who belongs? The second theme introduces Jesus suggesting that if our arms, legs or eyes cause us to sin, we should get rid of them rather than risk Gehanna, the Greek word in this commentary. The Holy Spirit had quite a job helping me see a relationship in these two themes. However, the resources made available to me by the Daughters of Mary materials and some discernment time with the Holy Spirit, helped me formulate a relationship between the two themes that I hope will stimulate dialogue today.
Mark 9: 38-43 contains the first theme. It tells of the complaint of the apostle John that some persons, not followers of Jesus, are nevertheless ridding people of devils. How can this be? The apostles follow Jesus, hanging onto every word. They sacrifice to follow Him. How can someone not doing what they are doing cast out devils? Jesus’ reply: ”Whoever is not against us is for us”.
This same complaint of who can prophesize is noted some 1200 years earlier. In the Old Testament reading for Sunday, (Numbers 11:25-29), Moses has been told by God to bring 70 elders to the tabernacle tent outside the camp. This meeting is taking place because earlier verses in Numbers, Chapter 11 find Moses complaining to God that these people are driving him crazy. They are demanding meat. They talk of the good food they had in Egypt forgetting their slave labors. God answers Moses by telling him to have the people cleanse themselves and for Moses to bring 70 elders to the tabernacle tent. God then has these elders receive some of the spirit of Moses. They begin to prophesize. However, two of the elders who were invited do not come to the tent, but also are prophesying in the camp. Well, some people begin to question why these two are able to prophesy. They did not come to the meeting. Josuha asks Moses why this can be possible. Moses reply: “Would that all were prophets.”
Jesus replies “Whoever is not against us is for us”. Moses replies “Would that all were prophets”. Does this theme warn against being jealous of others? Does it note an intolerance toward others not exactly like we are? Does it beg the question that the tradition we value may have to loosen up sometime? Pope Francis says let things get messy. Put mercy, kindness, and love ahead of propriety and tradition. (From September edition of Word Amongst Us)
The second theme of Mark’s gospel is in the verses 45 and 47-48. Last week Edna spoke about the child that Jesus took into His arms telling the apostles that “whoever receives one such child in my name receives me”. Probably still holding that child, Jesus says woe to anyone who causes little ones to sin. We are to protect the little ones from sin. Jesus, by His next words notes how serious sin is. He says if a hand causes sin, cut it off rather than go to Gehanna. If a foot causes sin better to go to heaven lame than hell with two feet. If an eye causes sin, Jesus says pluck it out rather than have two eyes in Gehanna.
What would the people listening to Jesus think when they heard the word Gehanna? Quoting the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament, Second Catholic Edition RSV, p.83, “ Gehanna is a valley directly southwest of Jerusalem. Jesus refers to it 11 times in the Gospels as a dreadful symbol of hell. Two associations are made with Gehanna, one drawn from the Old Testament and the other from Jesus’ contemporary setting. In the Old Testament Gehenna is a Greek rendering of the Hebrew place-name ‘Valley of the sons of Hinnom’. It was the site of a frightful Canaanite cult that worshipped the idols of Molech and Baal by burning children in sacrifice. In the New Testament period, Gehenna served as a smoldering garbage dump where refuse burned continually. Jesus evokes these associations to teach us that hell is not a place of purgation or purification, but one of fiery punishment. In the afterlife, the bodies and souls of the wicked will suffer in hell for eternity.”
What might Jesus want us to discern when putting these two themes together; one noting His followers surprise at who gets the gift of prophesy and a second one with a warning of the serious consequences for those who cause others to sin?
One approach to bridge these two themes could be that Jesus is telling us that the most important thing is “to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him.” Following this course avoids causing others to sin by our example. I think living a life that pursues service to God will not look exactly the same for each of us since we are His unique creatures. And, given God’s penchant for the unexpected, then it should not alarm us if someone we think is an unusual person to spread His Word is doing so effectively. In fact maybe we are the unexpected persons given the gift to spread His word. The Pope is certainly advocating that in his message of getting out of our communities to spread the Word, putting love first, advocating dialogue, promoting mercy and compassion.
Jesus says even the act of giving a drink of water in His name will not go unnoticed How can we begin venturing out of our comfort zone to serve the Lord while living lives that reflect the love of God? God makes so many opportunities available. Each of us here could easily name 5 or 6 ways to serve God. Can we try one that causes our knees to feel weak and our stomach queasy because we don’t feel qualified? Can we accept the grace God always provides to do His work and move on to serve? In the old and new testament, God provides many examples of asking people who felt unqualified to help Him. And, we know each of their successes because of the grace God provides.
In the Sunday readings Jesus offers us examples of persons who serve Him that some feel are not qualified. He provides a context of why it is critical to live a good life that does not cause others to sin. Jesus notes that the smallest service to Him, such as a drink of water, will not go unnoticed. Jesus expects us to share our faith with others. Grace abounds for us to know Him, love Him and serve Him. How can we, the Daughters of Mary, change our parishes as we take to heart the SHARE THE GOSPEL message?