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.” 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. Whoever is not against us is for us. 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.”
“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. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life.”
“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.”
“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, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.” (Mark 9:38-43, 45 & 47-48 – NRSVCE)
We find similar texts in Matthew10.40–42 & Luke 9.49–50 and Matthew 18.6–9 & Luke 17.1–2.
Verses 44 and 46 are omitted from the best manuscripts.
“Mention of John in this instance is apparently owing to his memorable remark. This is the only instance in Mark where John the apostle is mentioned alone. Elsewhere John is mentioned as the brother of James (1:19, 29; 3:17; 10:35, 41) or as one of Jesus’ trusted triumvirate (5:37; 9:2; 13:3; 14:33). Being in Jesus’ inner circle had at least some deleterious effects on John—as inner circles often do—for John’s elitist attitude toward the unnamed exorcist in v. 38 repeats a similar attitude on his part when he and James desired to call down fire on inhospitable Samaritans (Luke 9:54), and again when he and James asked to sit on Jesus’ right and left hands in glory (10:35). The “we” in v. 38 thus probably includes James. In complete disregard of the lesson of the preceding story, John regards his call as a disciple not as a call to service but as an entitlement of privilege and exclusion.” (J R Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, W B Eerdmans; 2002, 289.)
Jesus demonstrates a far more universalist approach to the Kingdom than the disciples: “Whoever is not against us is for us.” After all, the so-called disciples are still showing a stark ignorance of what Jesus is actually trying to explain to them. How could they claim to be special or superior?
Note also that John has problems with this exorcist, not because he is not following Jesus, but because he is not following us! John – who has been recently present at the transfiguration – still has some growing to do.
“ …. because you bear the name of Christ.” “This saying preserves a rare occurrence of Jesus calling himself the Christ. This is only conceivable in the wake of Caesarea Philippi, where Peter announced Jesus to be the Christ (8:29). Following that momentous declaration, Jesus now instructs the disciples privately on the meaning of his mission. The concept of Christ is not further elaborated, except to emphasize that the disciples belong to him (Rom 14:7–9). Given the misunderstanding and behavior of the disciples, the assurance of Jesus that “you belong to Christ” is not inconsequential.” (J R Edwards, 291)
“The three sayings in vv. 43, 45, and 47 follow the same basic pattern: If one part of your body (hand, foot, or eye) proves to be an obstacle to your entering the kingdom of God, cut it off and so avoid being cast into Gehenna. These sayings are associated with v. 42 by the keyword “scandalize.” But whereas v. 42 concerns one who scandalizes simple believers in Jesus, these three sayings treat parts of the body by which one may be led into sin. Given the widespread use of the body as a political/communal metaphor in antiquity, it is possible that these three sayings should be read as referring to problems encountered within the Christian community (the “body of Christ”) and the use of excommunication to deal with troublemakers (see 1 Cor 5:1–5).” (J R Donahue, & D J Harrington, The Gospel of Mark, The Liturgical Press, 2002, 287.)
The import of Jesus’ severe sayings here is not that we should be putting millstones around the necks of paedophiles and throwing them into the sea or cutting off parts of our bodies because they have “caused us to stumble”. It is rather that we should recognize the fundamental laws of human existence that growth is more about emptying than filling, letting go rather than grabbing hold, more about dispossession than possession. At the end, our “success” at living will be judged more by what we can do without than what we have accumulated and cling to or pass on to someone else to cling to.
In the Woody Allen film, Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989), a Rabbi has an eye disease which is causing him to go blind. The ophthalmologist who attends him is a morally corrupt individual with perfect eyesight. Yet the Rabbi sees what is real far more clearly than the ophthalmologist.
Our faith in Jesus Christ is not about doctrinal propositions, moral injunctions or rules. It is about communion, an intimacy of life that means nothing comes between us and Christ. This is not to suggest that we wilfully try to cleanse ourselves, clearing the ground as it were so that we get closer to Christ. It does not work that way. First and last our relationship with Christ is a work of grace. It comes as gift not conquest.
Grace will gently but firmly lead us in the way of emptying and deconstructing and letting go and the total dispossession of all that would harm us – that is, all that would prevent our ultimate communion with Christ and our brothers and sisters in him.
“Attachment is a manufacturer of illusions and whoever wants realty ought to be detached.” (Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, Octaogon Books, 1981, 59.)