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.” 39But 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. 40Whoever is not against us is for us. 41For 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.
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. 43If 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 Gehenna, to the unquenchable fire. 45And 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 Gehenna. 47And 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 Gehenna, 48where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
49“For everyone will be salted with fire. 50Salt 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.”
John’s concern over encountering another casting out demons in the name of Jesus seems reasonable. There has been some very intentional training of the disciples by Jesus. The desire to protect the integrity of this training by John seems like a great thing to do. But again, Jesus reverses expectations.
Jesus seems to have no desire to put a stop to this rough healer. He does, however, put a stop to the disciples attempt to control the ministry of Jesus.
Ched Myers offers an interesting perspective: “The arrogance in John's objection lies in its attempt to erect boundaries around the exercise of compassionate ministry ‘in the name of Jesus.’ He equates exorcism with the accrual of status and power, and wishes to maintain a monopoly over it. This is especially ludicrous in light of the disciples’ lack of exorcism power, which we have just witnessed (9:14-29) (Myers, 261).”
Jesus does not dwell on the dismissal too long, but gives three reasons why the disciples should not get in the way of those who are doing ministry in the name of Jesus:
1) “… for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.”
2) “Whoever is not against us is for us.”
3) “ 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.”
The first two seem reasonable and the third one has the power of an “amen” statement and deserves our attention. Again, Myers’ reflection is helpful in understanding this section of Mark:
“John is worried about those with competing power, but Jesus is welcoming all those who do the works of mercy and justice. John is entertaining ‘holier than thou’ delusions, but Jesus points out how his followers will often find themselves on the receiving end of compassion. In other words, disciples have no corner on the ministry of healing and liberation, and therefore should without prejudice work alongside those whose practice is redemptive (Myers, 262).”
Jesus’ ministry and the new social reality called the kingdom of God is inclusive. Jesus supports this inclusivity by putting a stop to a monopoly on his teachings and ministry to just the disciples he is training.
Maintaining A Healthy Community
Sometimes the break down of community comes from toxicity within the group itself. This next section addresses this internal toxicity and how to address it.
The phrase “put a stumbling block before” is actually the Greek word skandalise - to scandalize. “To scandalize, usually translated ‘cause to stumble,’ is a technical term in Mark for rejection of the kingdom message (6:3) or desertion of the way (14:27,29). This is now the second allusion to the sower parable: ‘when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word they stumble and fall away’ (4:17, skandalizontai)(Myers, 262).”
I think about the diversity of Christianity in our modern world and the way that denominationalism has caused this internal “scandalizing.” The body of Christ, the collective group who claim to follow Jesus, have placed many scandals (stumbling blocks) in the way of following Jesus. I can understand why an outsider would be hesitant to participate in the practice of Jesus following when there are so many competing “truths.”
One way to encounter this story is to use the metaphor of the body for the community of faith. This makes the next sayings more approachable.
The call to cut off one’s hand or foot, or pluck out one’s eye, could be a metaphor for dealing with those who cause scandal. “Understood more metaphorically, Mark's exhortations call for the expulsion (but not execution) of the informer/apostate, for the sake of the whole body (Myers, 263).”
The last movement of this section is another that gets confusion without metaphor and the remembrance of cultural references.
Ched Myers cites H. Fledderman:
“Have salt” is parallel to “be at peace.” In the Old Testament salt is a symbol of the covenant. One of the clearest text is Leviticus 2:13 B: “do not let the salt of the covenant of your God be lacking from your cereal offering.” In Numbers 18:19 and everlasting covenant is called a “covenant of salt” (see also 2 Chronicles 13:5). The background of this idea probably lies in the sharing of salt in a meal (Ezra 4:14). To share salt with someone is to share fellowship with him, to be in covenant with him. The discourse began with two situations of conflict and strife, the self-seeking arguing of the disciples about rank in the conflict with the strange exorcist. It went on to discuss the problem of scandal in the community. To all of this Mark opposes the piece of covenant fellowship [1981:73](Myers, 264).
Questions for Modern-Day Disciples
- What are the stumbling blocks we have placed in our own way of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
- How do we begin to tear down some of these stumbling blocks (scandals)?
- How do we maintain healthy, communal relationships?
- What are some ways to maintain internal relationships to sustain a healthy community of faith?