What Matters Most

Some of Jesus' strongest words were in response to the disciples' interference in the work of another believer.

The Scripture

Mark 9:38-50
told by Deborah

Comment: Perhaps my surmise from last week is right: that the little child Jesus took into his arms was not the picture of sweetness and light. Perhaps the child was so out of control that one of the disciples was reminded of having recently witnessed an exorcism.

John said, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name; and we tried to prevent him, because he wasn’t following us.”

But Jesus said, “Don’t interfere; those who perform miracles in my name on one day won’t be condemning me on the next.

“If they aren’t impeding our work, that is enough. If the most that they do is give you a cup of water because you bring the Gospel, that is an act of grace.

“If you try to interfere with these newbies to the faith, it would be better if you were fitted with a cement overcoat and thrown off aa pier.

“If your hand gets in the way of the Gospel, cut it off; better to go through life maimed than to have two hands pulling you toward sin. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; better to go through life lame than to have two feet and walk in paths of wickedness. And if your eye is drawn to evil, tear it out; better to enter the kingdom of God half-blind than to have two eyes and fall into the pit of bleak hopelessness and death.

“Everyone will be seasoned with fire. Seasoning is good, but if fire has lost its heat, what use is it? Be fired up within yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Photo of a flower

Reflection by Deborah Beach Giordano
October 1, 2018

Teacher's Pet?

Teacher, teacher! We saw somebody doing something wrong, so we stopped him! Aren’t you proud of us?

It’s human nature: we want to be special; we long to be “favored of God,” to be the teacher’s pet — and what greater Teacher than the Lord Jesus? To be right and righteous in His eyes would be like winning the Greatest Disciple Award, surely. (And the disciples had just been arguing among themselves about that precise title.)

eye in palm of handBut Jesus wasn’t having any of it. He sternly warned the disciples that interfering with another’s walk and works of faith could put their own souls in deadly peril. The behavior was so hateful to the Lord that he repudiated it at length. Whether or not he was speaking literally, Jesus’ remarks left a lasting impression: who can “unsee” the image of cutting off a hand or foot or tearing out an eye in order to avoid falling into sin?

But beyond the hyperbole (if that’s what it was), is a powerful truth: if what we watch for in others are signs of wickedness, if what we seek are causes to harm and hate, if what we are drawn to are reports of debauchery and deceit, if what we see is evil everywhere — then that becomes our worldview. Our outlook becomes demonic. We do not seek to bless, but to curse; we use our hands not to build up, but to tear down; we use our feet to trample the vulnerable, rather than walk in companionship with those who are weak and weary.

It would be better not to use our hands or feet or eyes at all, rather than put them to such harmful purposes.

The Pit

deep pitWhen we deny or demean expressions of grace and compassion, we fall into the Pit of Malice and Misery. Delighting in shaming and blaming and bringing disgrace, we become agents of evil rather than good, piling up muck rather than lifting sorrows. We become carriers of despair, rather than bearers of light.

The measure you use will be measured back to you.
   ~ Luke 6:38b

Our every word of condemnation returns to accuse us; our challenges of others’ conduct calls our own to account. Every stone we cast at others becomes a millstone around our own necks, dragging us deeper into bleak hopelessness and corrosive anger — a burning fire that cannot be extinguished. Confident of our chosen status, we stand firm; inflexible, unyielding, and deaf to the cries of those in need — unmoving, and uncaring, dead while yet still living. We can be prisoners of our prejudices, or blessed representatives of the Kingdom: the choice is ours.

A Wider Net

The disciples admitted that the unknown exorcist hadn’t done anything wrong; he knew the power of the name of the Lord, and was apparently able to use it successfully, yet they still felt the need to interfere. The problem was, they said, that he was a stranger: he wasn’t one of the In Crowd. They didn’t know him … and, despite the fact that he knew Jesus, that was not enough, as far as they were concerned.

Rather than encourage his work, or invite him in to their inner circle, that he might learn and grow, the disciples tried to stop this newcomer to the faith. Perhaps they succeeded, we do not know; perhaps the man went away from that place, rejected, dejected, and later died in despair. How much harm we can do with our words! How often do we stop to consider the power of the things we say?

Perhaps the thoughtless words went farther. What of the people who had sought help from the man; those who were sick and troubled and demon-driven? They saw “disciples of the Lord” trying to prevent healing and good works; to those witnesses it would appear that followers of Jesus were promoters of pain and suffering, unconcerned with anyone other than themselves: ego-driven and in the thrall of their own reputations.

One is tempted to wonder if maybe the disciples were the ones in need of an exorcism!

How many who might have been helped — healed, inspired, encouraged, comforted, uplifted — were appalled and disgusted by the behavior of the Lord’s nominal disciples? How many flickering lights of faith were extinguished by their act of hubris and conceit? It is no wonder that Jesus reacted with such vehemence. The damage they had inflicted would not readily be undone.

Fired Up

Pointing at another who we suspect may be in the wrong doesn’t make us right. Unfortunately, it’s a temptation we succumb to, all too often; discovering other’s faults provides an enjoyable distraction from looking at our own. It makes us feel that we are better, somehow superior; just like the disciples, we yearn to be “the greatest.” But that’s not what following Jesus is about.

The Lord follows up his denunciation of the misuse of their authority with the statement that his disciples are to be “seasoned with fire.” It is another of those curious expressions that abound in Mark’s gospel; at once both disconcerting and intriguing.

clay cooking potThis seasoning isn’t the sort that gives flavor to a stew, or a patina of age to wood, but as pottery is seasoned by heat and flames. (C.f., Jeremiah 18:3-6) Clay pots that have been seasoned with fire can withstand repeated heating; they won’t break under stress, are not prone to cracking or crazing, and are solid and strong and useful.

As post-Pentecost Christians, we are reminded of the tongues of fire that descended on the gathered disciples, giving them the power to speak the Gospel to all the world. Yet Mark knows nothing of this, only of the immediate demands upon those who believe in the word of the Crucified Lord: how do we proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ in the midst of a broken and disordered world. His answer — the Lord Christ’s answer — is that we do so by being fired up within our souls.

This is not a burning zeal that blazes up suddenly and then is exhausted, but a steady, strong, consistent, productive faith. We are to be as seasoned cooking pots that can bring forth nourishment, provide comfort, and are able to “take the heat,” when challenges arise.

Holy Spirit dove

We are to be seasoned with fire, not inflamed by it.

Cooking pots don’t lead glamorous lives; they aren’t merely decorative, they don’t sit a shelf looking beautiful, but are active and intimately involved in the business of living, every day. One pot does not envy another or criticize its shape; each serves the purpose for which it was formed. And that is enough.

The greatest pot isn’t the largest, but the most useful.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah 

Suggested Spiritual Excercise

Do your words, your works, and your attitude proclaim the Gospel?