IN THE readings set aside for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, we continue hearing from a dialog read in the Gospel According to Saint Mark. We find ourselves at the conversation wherein a disciple questioned the authority of an outsider, one who was doing good works in our Lord’s name. The answer our Lord offered gives us needed guidance concerning our Christian relationships to other persons in the faith, and in the world.
John said to him, “Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he was not following us.”
But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ, will by no means lose his reward.
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea.
And 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 to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to 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 with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.
For every one will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” (Mark 9:38-50)
In His Name…
The disciple John went to Jesus. As a follower and student, he voiced concern over the ministry of someone who worked outside the mandate that had been given to the disciples. John told our Lord that the group stopped the man from doing such, because he was not one of them. Based on the earlier conversation recorded in this same chapter of Mark, wherein the disciples were warned about jealously guarding their own turf in the prospective kingdom, we see here that they were yet shielding their future political aspirations.
Some scholars studying this text have indicated that it became important for the Mark’s mid-first century community to cite this occasion, because the conversation dealt with issues afflicting the early church. Some say that these competitive natures were not an issue with the original disciples. These authorities hold that the text, therefore, is an inserted remembrance is of a taught attitude. The text was inserted, therefore, as a reminder only when the ministry of such as Paul was at issue for the later community.
Given this, however, I contend that though the secondary use by Mark may indeed be intentional and likely, there is little reason to discount the importance and actuality of this conversation during Jesus’ earthly ministry. If we assume such use then, our focus is rightly placed upon Jesus’ response. The attitude he cites stands regardless of the decades or centuries throught which the church must work. He clearly stated for them, and thus voiced to we ourselves today as Christians, that we should not hamper others who do great works in his name. Our Lord warned that these outsiders, as “little ones”, should not be hampered by the church.
We note that in correlation within the arrangement of the episodes, Mark described that Jesus used the same child-like term to describe the unknown worker, as had been previously found in Mark 9:36 when he first placed an actual child before them. Consequently, now using a fourfold warning, our Lord cautioned his disciples against being so jealous that they would impede the declaration of God’s grace. If they persisted in jealously guarding their perceived positions and agendas, they could find themselves thwarting the very reason that Jesus had come out!
Today we can take from this a sure message. If any disciple, individual church or church denomination should impede the right declaration of the gospel by another… they may find themselves clearly described by the words of the prophets…
“And they shall go forth and look on the dead bodies of the men that have rebelled against me; for their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” (Isaiah 66:24)
To further illustrate the point, we need to carefully weigh the words and deeds of others. Jesus told them that any person or community that would act in a self-centered manner, would be like salt that had lost its flavor. Dead salt, like the low quality salt that was often found in the Dead Sea, was cast away as worthless. Useless salt was thought to represent foolishness, fiery wickedness and unbelief…
Wisdom rescued a righteous man when the ungodly were perishing; he escaped the fire that descended on the Five Cities. Evidence of their wickedness still remains: plants bearing fruit that does not ripen, and a pillar of salt standing as a monument to an unbelieving soul. For because they passed wisdom by, they not only were hindered from recognizing the good, but also left for mankind a reminder of their folly, so that their failures could never go unnoticed. (Wisdom 10:6-8)
Surely then, to anyone who remembered the audacity of Lot’s wife, this admonition brought a sun-bleached warning… rather than instilling refreshing images of sustenance. Jesus’ words no doubt reminded, therefore, that salt is a rather ambiguous substance. When used properly, salt is an invigorating, life supporting element. Salt is a precious commodity.As applied heavily upon the surface of food, it supplies a penetrating, protective preservation. Salt is also used to put fire in the belly, so that a person could retain water… to endure and sustain life in the fiery furnaces of the dry, desert places.
In such way, Jesus warned us that the ministry of the children of God is guided by the Holy Spirit. Thus we need to eliminate undue jealousy, so that efforts should not be made in vain because of striving amongst ourselves. Our energy should be more rightly applied to giving life to others. This is the proper salt that was given to the church by our Lord…
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. (1 Peter 4:12-14)
Therefore any church or denomination following these right and proper instructions and teaching according to the scriptures inherited from the days of walking alongside our Lord, we should not cast dispersion upon any other entity doing good works in our Lord’s name. However, note also that if the activity is done for any reason of selfish promotion or steerage toward a false gospel message, it should be condemned. We must take notice that those who have historically spoken falsely to either demean or distort our Lord’s loving care, the love that was poured out upon the cross, had been condemned to fall silent. Though these may seem to flavor the stew for a time… and some have occasionally burped tastelessly into modern society… they are destined to be mute, salt-encased witnesses standing before the eternal judgment of our God.
Therefore, as disciples working in the modern world we need for the most part to center only on the mission that we are given. The Christian church by grace alone is called to proclaim the true faith alone, given by the Word who is Jesus Christ alone. Let us pray to the Holy Spirit, which is the Spirit of Christ our Lord… so that we may do such wonderful deeds for the good of those in the evil world unfolding around us. Thanks be to God!