Mark 9:38-50 John said to Jesus, "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 maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 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.
"For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt 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."
I spent twenty three years living in Northern New Mexico, some of that time in horse and cattle country. As a transplanted city girl there was something I never quite figured out. Why did some of the landowners surround their acreas with electric fences while others did not? Was the land and the livestock inside the electric fences more precious? Were the people inside the electric fences more vulnerable? Were they keeping things in or were they keeping things out?
When John and the disciples saw a stranger casting our demons in Jesus’ name apparently they wanted to stretch an electric fence around themselves and Jesus. Can you imagine a sign flapping on their buzzing barbed wire? “Warning, keep out, you are treading on holy ground. If you are not one of us you have no right to call upon Jesus’ name and cast out demons.” And if we read the text hidden in John and the other disciples’ hearts it might be, “Hay, who’s the guy stealing our thunder? Who does he think he is? Jesus gave us the power to heal and cast out demons and he is not one of us. We are the authorized exorcists. We have to stop him.”
But Jesus would have none of that. Can you imagine Jesus shrugging and saying, “Tear down your electric fences. This stranger is casting out demons and freeing God’s people. He is doing God’s work of tearing down fences and removing stumbling blocks. Truly, he is no threat, he is not against us.”
Somehow John and the disciples have lost track. They are possessed with preserving and protecting their special relationship with Jesus and their unique access to power. (Can you hear echoes of them bickering over who is greatest? Who will be on Jesus’ right and left side?) Their concern about themselves has blinded them to the good the stranger is doing. Their concern about their priority has become a stumbling block, which Jesus says is problematic and must be removed.
“If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off.” Jesus is serious. There is no equivocation. “If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off.” John and the disciples must tear down their electric fences, let go of their claims to special power and privilege or the consequences will be dire. If they continue to see strangers as adversaries, competitors, or threats they will not only be separating themselves from their neighbors they will also be separating themselves from God. And the suffering they will bring upon themselves will be endless.
So where is the good news in all of that? From the beginning and for all time the land and all that is therein (people, trees, horses) is valuable. There is no need to build fences and stake claim, no need to hide or to keep others out. All we need to do is claim our inheritance and be our true self.