Year B 26th Sunday: Mark 9:38-48

09:38 John said to him,
'Master, we saw someone who is not one of us driving out devils in your name,
and because he was not one of us we tried to stop him.'
09:39 But Jesus said, 'You must not stop him;
no one who works a miracle in my name could soon afterwards speak evil of me.
09:40 Anyone who is not against us is for us.
09:41 If anyone gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ,
then in truth I tell you, he will most certainly not lose his reward.
09:42 But anyone who is the downfall of one of these little ones who have faith,
would be better thrown into the sea with a great millstone hung round his neck.
09:43 And if your hand should be your downfall, 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 can never be put out.
09:45 And if your foot should be your downfall, cut it off;
it is better for you enter into life lame, than to have two feet and be thrown into hell.
09:47 And if your eye should be your downfall, 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
09:48 where their worm will never die nor their fire be put out.

Context & Information

Jesus and his disciples are still on their way to Jerusalem. Jesus is teaching his disciples that - if they want to follow him - they have to learn to be the least and the last ones, as he himself will be in Jerusalem. Jesus even placed a child in their midst to illustrate his teaching that they had to be the little ones.

Exactly at that moment John interrupts Jesus (vs.38 translated more literally): 'Master, we saw someone throwing out demons in your name. We stopped him because he didn't follow us.' Note that John doesn't say, 'He did not follow YOU', but 'US!' With these words John puts himself in the first place. Exactly to the contrary of what Jesus was teaching. And what is more: somebody who is throwing out demons in Jesus' name is serving the little ones, the ones who are captured by tyrannic spirits. And even more: some moments ago a father came to the disciples asking to liberate his son from an evil spirit and they were not able to do so (09:17-18). And now they are stopping somebody who is able to do it - in Jesus' name!?

The most precious people for Jesus are the little ones. Why? They don't have anything in their lives to lean on, to found their lives on. They only have the hope that once, somewhere in the future, there will appear to them what they can only hope for and long after now. Their hope and their desire are the only things they have in life. And let nobody take away this hope. Or, in the Greek text, 'Scandalize them' (translated in the reading with 'be their downfall').

Caring for these poor people is the heart of Jesus' preaching. It may be illustrated by his unexpectedly vehement threats, 'those who are scandalizing a little one: they would be better thrown into the sea with a great millstone hung round their neck' That is not the sweet Jesus we know from elsewhere. It is better for such a person to be 'thrown into hell where their worm will never die nor their fire be put out.' With the kind regards from Jesus! This last sentence is a quote from Isaiah; to be precise: the very last words of the Book of Isaiah (66:24), where the prophet speaks about those who revolted against the Lord, God; that is: who revolted against the sovereignty of Love, Charity, Mercy and Compassion. Those people will be eaten by their own wickedness. Jesus has this picture in mind when he speaks about those who 'scandalize' the little ones.

Picture Meditation

In the history of art not many illustrations of Jesus' threatening in today’s reading are to be found. Peter Clare had the courage to do so.

In the foreground we see a desperate man, a heavy mill stone around his neck, swallowed by a wave, surrounded by dangerous voracious animals, like a shark, a snake and a crab. His naked bottom is very prominently visible. (In the Dutch language there is a saying that 'you have to bare your bottom', when the hidden purposes you were after will become inescapably clear).

Outside the wave we see Jesus top left, surrounded by children and protecting a little child at his breast. He points vehemently to the people top right: a cardinal, a religious sister with a rosary, a doctor, a scholar behind his desk... They symbolize the ones who 'have', who 'arrived' already on the good side of life, who seem to be pious and well-placed, but do not leave any place for the little ones. Jesus threatens them that they deserve the fate of the man pictured in the centre.

Bottom left we see a pregnant woman, dressed in green: sign of hope. Bottom right we see a skull. Jesus' preaching is a matter of life and death.

Am I somewhere in the picture?
Did I ever experience that the last glimmer of hope I had was taken away by people who were much better placed than I was?
Did I see it around me at some time?
Can I feel Jesus' indignation?
Is it really a matter of life and death?

by Fr Dries van den Akker SJ

St Mark's Gospel Reflections