September 26, 2021  

Mark writes this Sunday’s gospel passage, like that of last Sunday, to make concrete what is the meaning of ‘carrying one’s cross’ to follow Jesus.  It is John, the brother of James and one of the first called by Jesus to follow him, who poses a problem to Jesus which was probably a problem in the early decades of the Church; Acts 19,13-15 shows this.  The problem is clear: someone is driving out demons in the name of Jesus.  (Jesus does not dispute the fact that someone actually did drive out demons in his name.)  John’s solution is to forbid the use of Jesus’s name to those who are not followers of Jesus.  Jesus offers a thought which is quite unexpected, as is a kind of cross for one to carry.  What Mark gives us is the principle on which Jesus allows the person to continue using his name.  The person, though not a follower, shows, by his using Jesus’s name, faith in the name of Jesus, and such a person will not, while trusting in the name of Jesus, speak ill of Jesus.  Jesus claims that a certain degree of respect and trust is shown here, and especially a demonstration that the person cannot drive out demons by his own name, nor does he offer any other name than that of Jesus.  

Thus, though Mark is not here speaking about Christian faith, he is underlining the trust that a non-believer can have in the name of Jesus; John had not 

understood this.   Jesus’s second statement, “for whoever is not against us is for us”, speaks favorably of ‘one not against us’; this is a conclusion from this one example wherein a person, though not a believer, shows himself ‘not against us’ by using the name of Jesus, and so can be assumed to be ‘for us’.  Again, one must think as Jesus thinks.  One rejects only what Jesus rejects.  [That others are driving out demons – Pharisees too did this – shows the universal belief in demons and their possessing human beings.  Thus, it is important to recall that Jesus’s driving out demons is not unique to him; what is at stake in his driving out demons is the demand that one believe in him who has such great power and love.  Faith in Jesus is the goal in this story of demon-expulsion; the healing itself is only the condition.]

If one can speak of driving out demons in Christ’s name, one can, Mark adds, speak of offering a cup of water to a disciple in Christ’s name.  If a person, not a believer, does offer water in Christ’s name, though he be not a member of “us”, he will receive a reward determined by the value of that name, Jesus, in which he gave the water.  In what follows, Jesus makes reference three times to Gehenna.  Gehenna is an Aramaic form of the original name of a valley which is at the southern end of Jerusalem and was originally the property of Hinnom and his family.  This site in Jesus’s time was the garbage dump of Jerusalem; here for centuries were thrown refuse, many useless and evil things, even 

corpses of those who had denied Yahweh – if Joseph of Arimathea had not asked Pilate for Jesus’s body, the body of this criminal may well have ended up in Gehenna.  Since Jerusalem’s garbage was plenty, Gehenna was lit on fire, fire which burned day and night.  It becomes a handy, effective symbol for Jesus to explain the pain that will follow upon final, irreversible rejection of God.  It is only a symbol, not an attempt to describe the actual punishment of separating oneself from God.

Jesus suggests cutting off the hand and the foot and plucking out the eye as a way of avoiding entering Gehenna.  Does he mean this literally?  Nowhere else in the Gospel does Jesus ask such mutilation of sinners, nor does he do so in any other Gospel, and Acts shows that the apostles did not ask this either.  Indeed, the tradition of 2000 Christian years has not, apart from a few cases, participated in this.  Rather, Gehenna is avoided by concentrating on change of heart, not on elimination of means the evil heart might use to achieve its goals.  

Throughout the OT, thinking about ‘cause’ often led to a confusion about ‘cause’ and ‘means’.  Later thinking did admit that a ‘means’, such as a hand or foot or eye, could be considered a ‘cause’, but only as a subordinate cause.  When, in his time, Jesus uses ‘cause’ in his teaching here, he knows that the hand, foot or eye are not principal causes (the heart is the principal cause, as 

Mark 7,20-23 shows), but he uses them to emphasize that even such blessings as hand, foot and eye can suffer if they stand in the way of salvation.  In accord with previous teaching in Mark, what is worth having, if by having it I lose eternal life?  Is there anything more valuable, and so to be held onto, than eternal life?  Jesus insists that to have one’s life here is not better than having it in eternal life, and his own crucifixion is witness to that teaching.  Thus, while we can say Jesus exaggerates when speaking of eliminating hand, foot, eye, he is not exaggerating in saying that nothing is worth more than eternal life.

And eternal life for the Christian means taking up our cross every day and following the path of Jesus. It is my vocation, to be for others another Christ. Far from being jealous of the good that others do, we need to hear the words of Moses today: "If only the whole people of the Lord were prophets, and the Lord gave his Spirit to them all."  We are not only called to be good people but to reach out to others and share the goodness of the Lord with them. We are called to recognize the hand of God in the action and lives of others around us. We are called to live lives filled with the Joy of the Gospel.   


For comments and suggestions: Sacred Heart Catholic Church Web Team
Updated: September 26, 2021

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