It would help if you could follow the text in your Bibles. Mark 9:38.
We start this week with a comment from John. This is the only time John is recorded as saying anything in Matthew, Mark or Luke. “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name and we told him to stop because he was not one of us” The original Greek text is slightly different
“Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, who does not follow us and we forbade him because he was not following us.” The phrase “not following us” occurs twice in the original Greek. For Mark, the very definition of discipleship is to follow Jesus. Note the difference.
Mark emphasises following Jesus. John emphasised following us. This can be a big trap for churches and denominations. When religion creeps into the equation Jesus gets forgotten. John also moaned about the man acting in Jesus’ name. Jesus had just spoken of receiving children “in my name,” John used the words to gripe about some man who was doing what the disciples themselves could not do! Moreover, Jesus had just spoken of “welcoming” children. In verse 37 Jesus used the word welcome four times. John hadn’t bothered to find out the man’s name. Nor had they asked him about his story. Jesus was all for inclusion. John wanted to exclude on the basis of not being one of us. Jesus responded gently. No-one who does great things in my name can immediately say anything bad about me. Who is not against us is for us. Then Jesus said, “Whoever gives you a cup of water in my name because you are of Christ, truly I say to you that that one does surely not lose their reward.” This was in sharp contrast to John’s wanting to exclude someone for doing a “powerful deed” in the name of Jesus. Jesus affirmed even the simplest act of compassion and kindness.
It seems to me that kindness and compassion were the hallmarks of Jesus’ ministry and should also be the hallmarks of those who claim to follow Jesus today.
Most of the people who followed Jesus were poor. Almost any group of people in first century Israel would have been very poor. Most of Jesus’ ministry was in the villages, towns, and countryside of Galilee where there would have been farmers and fishermen. The ones who would have been the ones most affected by economic difficulties and were away from wealthy Jerusalem.
The ones who Jesus showed his compassion to. The ones who the Gospel of Jesus is all about.
The next bit of the reading is quite strong and almost political in nature. ‘Cause any of my followers to fall away, and it would be better to have a large millstone put around your neck and be thrown into the sea.’ Then follow three sayings regarding the hand, the foot, and the eye. ‘If any one of these causes you to fall cut it off or throw it out. Better to be maimed than to go to Gehenna.’
Most translations have “hell,” but the Greek word is “Gehenna.” This is an important difference.
Gehenna was an actual place. It was a ravine south of Jerusalem where child sacrifices had taken place several centuries before Jesus. By the time of Jesus it was used as a rubbish dump and was kept continually burning. It was a place to be avoided. Consequently it had come to symbolise a place of judgement or punishment. This verse is often used to justify the idea that a place called hell exists with continually burning fires and, if you believe the many artists who have depicted hell, devils tormenting the residents. There does not seem to be any Biblical justification for this.
An interesting anomaly appears in the passage. Have a look at verse 44. Can’t find it? Somebody nicked it? Try verse 46. Same again. Our text is odd in that is does not have a verse 44 or 46.
The earliest and best manuscripts do not have these two verses. It is interesting, though, that somebody decided to add them in later. In those versions, verses 44 and 46 are identical to verse 48: “their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” This is a quotation from Isaiah.
I happen to have a version here that does contain those two verses. If you want to know which version that is ask me afterwards. As you know I don’t like to be controversial in the sermon!
The chapter closes in a totally different mood. Everyone will be salted with fire. Why are these words here I can only guess. On the face of it, they do not make sense. Salt and fire were agents of healing in ancient times. Are they words of healing? Given the argy-bargy that had been going on with the disciples, was Jesus trying to encourage them to be at peace with one another and concentrate on the job in hand. The job of building the Kingdom. Your guess is as good as anyone else’s although in verse 43 there should be a ‘the’ before the word life. I think Jesus was equating THE life with THE Kingdom mentioned in verse 47.
Taking the passage as a whole I think we can discern either of two lessons. It may have been an attempt to rally the troops. Rather like the leader of a political party giving his or her speech at the party conference. All who follow Jesus must be totally committed to the exclusion of anything else.
Alternatively, it may have an object lesson for the disciples, and us, that to follow Jesus is not to become part of a religious sect where only those who subscribe to a set of beliefs are allowed in.
Becoming part of the Kingdom is open to all. Open to all regardless of race gender or creed.
Do we include or exclude people.