Twenty-sixth Sunday, Year B, 26 September, 2021: Numbers 11:25-29; James 5:1-6; Mark 9:38-48
On the surface, there may seem to be no relationship between the two halves of today’s Gospel, but I believe Jesus is making a point and then unpacking its implications.
First he corrects John for attempting to prevent someone who is not a disciple from using Jesus’ name to drive out a demon. John is thinking very simplistically, as if the Twelve Disciples had a monopoly on Jesus’ name: either you’re part of the “in-group” or you’re an “outsider.” What he fails to see is that this particular outsider recognizes the power of Jesus’ name and understands the healing nature of his ministry. His practical trust is a real faith in Jesus and that faith, as we’ve seen again and again in Mark’s Gospel, is what heals. This stranger has understood more than John has yet learned.
But John’s blunder is not some neutral oversight. It is not just abuse of power, the misappropriation of funds, sexual abuse or any other coercive act that can alienate the innocent; it is as much John’s exclusive, partisan, divisive perspective that can derail the Kingdom that Jesus inaugurates.
Cutting out people of true faith causes real damage. By contrast, cutting off body parts, which Jesus knows we’ll never really do, is presented as relatively beneficial.
This is a stern correction that Jesus levels at John for an attitude that has infected Christianity through the centuries—who is “in” and who is “out.”
If Jesus’ rebuke convicts me, I should be troubled and take stock. But it would be self-defeating to be paralyzed by my fault. John wasn’t stuck in his attitude and didn’t give up on himself. He accepted the validity of the criticism—and there’d be more to come—but he learned to become more. He changed.
Why couldn’t I?