This morning we continue our journey with Jesus to Jerusalem and we encounter the disciples responding to a charismatic prophet who is casting out demons in Jesus’ name. Their response shouldn’t surprise us as we have listened to Jesus rebuke them these last few weeks for acting or speaking inappropriately. This morning they again act decisively with the assumption that they are doing what Jesus would want. They are busy drawing lines that exclude. They are thinking competitively and Jesus isn’t interested in that gospel. In our readings this morning both Moses and Jesus remind us that we cannot seek to determine or limit what God is capable of doing.
And though we may not like to admit it we so often mirror the behaviour of the disciple. We too can fail to respond with grace and generosity to anyone who acts in Jesus’ name. We sometimes don’t like to broaden our circle and welcome what the other has to offer. The gospel of Mark reminds us that people who love Jesus can become like Jesus, but it takes time. The gospel is the story of the slow formation of a community moulded in the image of its teacher. It is the story of the slow becoming of the body of Christ. Slow for the disciples and for us because what Jesus is attempting to teach them is clearly something that they don’t want to learn – and I think neither do we. Following him is no casual thing. He is to suffer and die and the course of the disciples’ life is that they will in some way have to follow him in that.
And so we are invited to look at our choices and who we are following and what way we are going. Are our choices leading to God and one another or away from God and the good of one another? The gospel speaks with obvious exaggeration (“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off….”) but such statements are to help us understand the seriousness of our choices for ourselves and our impact on those around us. Self-mutilation is not God’s intent, but the words are meant to grab our attention. If there is something in our lives – some habit, some action, some attitude – that gets between us and God, we must cut it out. What choices lead us to God and away from God? What holds us back – from living the life we sense calling in our depths? If too much time online is holding you back from the quieting your being longs for, turn off or at least silence your device. If the people you spend time with are not encouraging the best from you, then choose.
And there’s more! Mark offers strong language about how we are to be with others: “Whoever scandalizes one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better if a great millstone were put around that person’s neck and the person were thrown into the sea.” Such sayings make us take our lives seriously because every act has consequences both for the other person and us. Jesus is saying to us “Don’t let your narrow understanding of discipleship, your own agenda cause another to stumble.” The kingdom of God invites us all.
This morning, Jesus seems to be saying to us, “Imagine something different!” What if the dividing lines aren’t written in stone? What if the kingdom of God is not so much about doors and walls and gates? What if the kingdom of God is organised by altogether different principles; whoever is not against us is in, whoever gives us a cup of water is in. It isn’t our job to be running around telling people who’s in and who’s out. It is our job to live love, that same boundless love of God made flesh in Jesus Christ and so to be the prophetic witnesses that the world so desperately needs to see.