Summary: A sermon for 17th Sunday After Pentecost - proper 21
Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, you sent you Son into our world to seek the lost and to save those who dwell in a land of darkness and despair. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, stir in us compassion and concern for those who think that they are beyond hope and your saving grace. Protect and keep each of us from the snares of hell, and restore in us a sense of value and potential for our lives and for the growth of your church. This we ask, in Christ’s holy name. Amen.
In our Gospel lesson for this morning, there appears to be a real contrast between the first four verses, and what follows. And so, I invite you to enter this contrast with an open heart and an open mind.
Our lesson opens with Mark telling us that John, one of Jesus’ closest disciples, tells Jesus that they happened upon a person who was casting out demons, or healing people of various diseases, and doing so in Jesus’ name. But this person wasn’t a disciple. He wasn’t even a person who had been following after Jesus, from place to place, as so many had been doing.
Oh, this person may have heard Jesus speak once or twice. This person may have even seen Jesus perform a miracle of healing. Or perhaps, this person had never even seen Jesus, or heard him speak. This person may have just heard about Jesus from others, as Jesus’ reputation as a healer
and prophet spread throughout the region.
To bring it into modern day terms, this person may never have joined a church, but heard others tell about their own encounter with Jesus, and believed their witness enough to pray for the healing of others in Jesus’ name. And according to Biblical scholarship, to perform an act “in the name of Jesus,” means to perform that act “by the authority of Jesus.”
So John, as spokesperson for the disciples, tell Jesus, “we tried to stop this person from healing people by invoking your name, because he was not following you, was not a member of your church.” But Jesus rebuked his disciples, saying, and “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.”
Then Jesus goes on to say that even if a person gives you a simple drink of water because you are a follower of Jesus the Christ, that person will not go unrewarded. It sounds as though Jesus is saying that it really doesn’t matter if you are a member of his church, if you perform an act of kindness in his name, you will receive his blessing.
But after saying this, Mark tells us that Jesus addressed his disciples, those of us who follow him as members of his church, with some rather stern warnings. Jesus tells us that if we put a stumbling block before any person who might believe in him, if we hinder their growth in faith, it would be better for us to be drowned in the sea. And then he goes on to tell us that if our hand or foot or eye causes us to sin, it would be better for us to cut them off from our body, and enter into the kingdom of God without these parts of our body, than to be thrown into hell.
Now there is the contrast! If someone acts to perform a healing in Jesus’ name, and is not a member of Christ’s church, they will receive their reward. If someone even gives a thirsty member of Christ’s church a drink of water in his name, that person will receive his or her reward. But if we, as members of Christ’s church do anything to cause someone outside the church to lose faith in Jesus, Mark tells us that we should cut out our sinful eye, or arm, or leg, rather than risk being thrown into hell.
Now, the first thing that we need to recognize as we begin to interpret this lesson, is that it cannot be taken literally. To “cut off your hand,” or to “pluck out your eye,” because it has caused you to sin, has never been advocated by the church. In fact, persons in Christian history who actually mutilated their bodies, such as Origin, a theologian who lived in the third century, were severely criticized by the Christian community.
Rather, the church has historically held that Jesus often used hyperbole – a common teaching technique of his day – to teach his disciples. In other words, Jesus used obvious exaggerations and overstatements in