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.”
Reflection Jesus’ story is not about in group privilege and access to exclusive power. The story is about a man, like Jesus, who even though he was not in the in group, was reaching out and healing people. Which is to say, the unknown man who was casting out demons in Jesus’ name was promoting the kingdom of God, not only by healing people but also by tearing down walls, stumbling blocks, that separate people into in groups and out groups that protect proprietary interests and territory. The man dared to step over a stumbling block that avers, some groups have an exclusive claim to God.
Most of us hear this story and react with revulsion to the notion of chopping off body parts because much like the disciples we miss the mark. We don’t want to give up our agency (hands), autonomy (feet), preferred way of seeing things (eyes) or our exclusive relationship with God. But Jesus calls this scandalizó, Greek for stumbling. Some translations call this sin. Whatever words we use, the meaning derives from the ancient Jewish tradition that counsels people of God not to turn away from God, but rather to repent, teshuvah, the Hebrew word for returning to God or God oriented consciousness.
This week the people of the United States and the world have witnessed a series of messages from the Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis. I believe the heart of his message is simple, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” Though Francis did not overtly add, “and cut off or turn away from anything that prevents you from doing so,” I am willing to wager he would agree because that is what returns us to all that is true, all that is good, God. Christians call this repentance. Jews, teshuvah. Muslims, tawbe. We all agree, what is true and good occurs when we are turned toward God.
Our individual and collective lives are saturated with distractions and attractions that lure our bodies, minds and souls to make idols of things that are not holy (food, drugs, sex, alcohol, adulation, exercise even compulsive seeking of the holy). We worship at the altars of security, esteem, power and control. We justify tiny lies, bits of gossip, self-aggrandizement. We fail to hold ourselves and each other to account. And so, bit by bit we turn further away from God.
Speaking to world leaders at the United Nations in New York, Pope Francis called for all 193 member nations to cut off the “boundless thirst for power and material prosperity.” That pretty much cuts to the marrow of the issues besetting the entire globe. It is time for us to chop off those parts, individually and collectively, that lead to the untold suffering of people and irreparable damage to our planet.
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