Summary: In this passage of scripture, we can see three things. First, we can see where caution hinders compassion. Secondly, we can see where compassion builds community. Finally, we can see where members of the community must be accountable to God and each other.
DISCIPLESHIP AND DISTORTION
Text: Mark 9:38 – 50
There is the story of an army chaplain who once told his men that he did not believe in hell. Some of his men responded by saying that his services would no longer be needed. The one who tells this story (Warren W. Wiersbe) also says what some of those men might have been thinking which was: “… if there is no hell, then why worry about death? But if there is a hell [and there is] then the chaplain was leading them astray! Either way, they would be better off without him!” (Warren W. Wiersbe. The Bible Exposition Commentary. Volume 1. Wheaton: Victor Books, 1989, p. 143). This chaplain’s distorted point of view could even contribute to leading someone astray in a way that would be eternally costly. Why is this story important as it relates to today’s text? It is important because, like this chaplain, there are some with distorted points of view that could be costly unless they are corrected. We might even say that much like an optometrist, Jesus gives His disciples corrective lenses to see what is blurry---distorted to them. Jesus pointed out to them their blind spots. It is as if Jesus gives them a set of bifocals that helps them to look “inwardly” at themselves as well as “outwardly” at the world around them. As Christian disciples, we all need these “spiritual bifocals”.
In this passage of scripture, we can see three things. First, we can see where caution hinders compassion. Secondly, we can see where compassion builds community. Finally, we can see where members of the community must be accountable to God and each other.
CAUTION VERSUS COMPASSION
Exercising caution shows wisdom. When we are driving, we know that at a traffic light green means go, yellow means caution, and red mean stop. Naturally, we use wisdom when driving through an intersection. Like driving, living the right way as Christian disciples has its rules.
Can exercising caution hinder compassion? The answer to that question is yes. The actions of the disciples in this story illustrate how caution can hinder compassion. The twelve disciples appear to be annoyed with this “alien [disciple] exorcist”. There are two possible explanations, One, they are annoyed because he is not one of their group. Secondly, the reason that the disciples are annoyed seems to be that he is successful in his exorcism where they failed in their ability at exorcism earlier in Mark 9. Someone (Brueggemann, Cousar, Gaventa & Newsom) even points out that the success of this “alien disciple ” seems to be a threat to not only their lack of success but their “status” as well because of his success. (Walter Brueggemann, Charles B. Cousar, Beverly R. Gaventa, James D. Newsome. Texts For Preaching: Year B. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993, p. 529). So Jesus tells them “Do not stop him … no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against is for us” (Mark 9:39 – 40 TNIV). Was the caution really caution or was it pride dressed up like caution? What about compassion? Here was a man in need of healing.
COMPASSION BUILDS COMMUNITY
How often do we get hung up on things that run contrary to our purpose? How often do we overlook what really matters? Sometimes it takes a crisis to “remove the scales from our eyes” before we will see the things that matter rather than focus on our differences. “The intensive care waiting room is a different world. No one is a stranger. They help one another. They grieve with one another and shed tears of joy together. There is no distinction of race or class. Vanity and pretense vanish. Everything focuses on the next doctor's report or the next telephone call. Here in this anxious stillness it becomes clear that loving someone else is what life is all about. Why does it take the intensive care waiting room to teach us to forget our irritations and love one another?” (Herb Miller. Actions Speak Louder Than Verbs. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989, p. 71). Did you notice the compassion in this story that would not likely exist outside that waiting room?
Compassion builds community because it can reach out to those in the margins. There are always people who are hurting for one reason or another. There are many who hunger to belong. Some are scared to risk getting involved because they feel that they might get hurt. Many stand on the sidelines for various reasons. The one thing that they all have in common is the brokenness that they feel. Compassion reaches out where others are scared to take the chance. Consider the following story and how it illustrates just that.