John said to Jesus, ‘Master, we saw a man who is not one of us casting out devils in your name; and because he was not one of us we tried to stop him.’ But Jesus said, ‘You must not stop him: no one who works a miracle in my name is likely to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us.
If anyone gives you a cup of water to drink just because you belong to Christ, then I tell you solemnly, he will most certainly not lose his reward.
But anyone who is an obstacle to bring down one of these little ones who have faith, would be better thrown into the sea with a great millstone around his neck. And if your hand should cause you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life crippled, than to have two hands and go to hell, into the fire that cannot be put out. And if your foot should cause you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life lame, than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye should cause you to sin, tear it out; it is better for you to enter into the Kingdom of God with one eye, than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell where their worm does not die nor their fire go out.’ (Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48)
The disciples are on a steep learning curve as Jesus instructs them about what true discipleship is all about.
Last week, using a little child, Jesus tried to show them that real leadership is about putting aside our own needs for social status, self-importance, power and wealth and to give ourselves fully to the service of others.
But the disciples are slow learners. In this Sunday’s Gospel, when they report that they tried to stop someone casting out devils in Jesus’ name just because ‘he was not one of us’, they probably expected praise from Jesus. Instead, they got a rebuke.
True discipleship is not about holding the mystery of the Kingdom to our self, to dispense as we see fit, deciding who merits our love, concern and service, and who does not.
Both principal readings this weekend remind us that the mystery belongs to God who chooses and uses whomever God wills in the service of human beings and the kingdom. The true disciple needs to have the humility to see that he or she is simply one among many whom God has chosen. In the leadership of service there is no place for those who exult themselves or believe themselves to be holders of some privileged position with the power to control the mystery. And jealousy of others distorts God’s intentions and compromises our efforts.
In the second part of the Gospel Jesus redirects the disciples’ attention to the evil that may be found inside the Christian community. Bad example or exploitative behaviour can be a stumbling block to more vulnerable members of the community.
Such people stand in contrast to the ‘man who is not one of us’ but who is doing a good thing by using the name of Jesus to heal people – he is a ‘true’ but unknown disciple of Jesus. Those who claim to be true disciples may very well find themselves to be outsiders and excluded from the kingdom.
The graphic sayings are really an invitation for all would-be disciples to search their own hearts and to do the work of pruning away those things which stand in the way of being a true disciple.
Jesus shifts the emphasis from the good deeds of the outsider at the beginning of the reading, to the sinful actions of members of the community towards the end of the reading. Perhaps he is inviting the disciples, and us, to look at our own motivations and behaviour rather than to judge other people.
Download this week's Celebrating At Home liturgy here.