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Weekly Bible Reflection
Mark's Alternative Economy


Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity

Text:
Mark 9.38-end "Who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’?"

Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
Sharing Together:

Recall an occasion when you received help, or a kindness, or found an ally, from an unexpected source. What was it about this that surprised you?

A Window on the Text

Jesus must have been close to despair with his disciples. Previously, while on their own, they’d been unable to drive out an evil spirit from a boy brought to them: Jesus had to do it (v17-29). Now they were complaining because another exorcist was being successful – and doing it in Jesus’ name, though he wasn’t even one of them (v38). They had earlier been arguing about who was the greatest (v33-34) and Jesus had shamed them into silence by his comparison with little children (v35-37). It seemed they’d never get it right.

The Church often speaks and acts as though it is the only authorised channel for dispensing God’s grace. Yet Jesus rejects such a restrictive view (v39-40). God’s power to work in the world can never be contained by our human institutions, perceptions and limitations. It is the doing of the will of God that is the key to inclusion in the Kingdom (v 41 and Matthew 7.21), the boundaries of which are not for us to define.

We can so easily become excluding, with the creation of an ‘in’ group, entry into which requires ‘outsiders’ to conform to its accepted rituals and norms of language, dress and culture. We may say, ‘All are welcome‘, but the unspoken proviso is conformity.

Jesus always shows a special concern for ‘the little ones’ in society (v42). The word used is not the same as ‘children’, but refers to those who are poor, sick, excluded, or vulnerable; those existing on the margins; and, maybe here, the very young or new in the faith. His warning is against anyone who might cause one of them to ‘stumble’ in their faith – to sin – just as a hand or foot might lead us into ‘mischief’ – or crime. Judicial amputation is still recognised as a punishment in much of the Middle East: better by far than the eternal fires of hell.

And just as fire will purify, and remove dross, so salt cleanses wounds and is used as a preservative, in addition to drawing out flavour of our food. But salt can lose its saltiness, its distinctiveness. Don’t lose yours, says Jesus.
Responding as a community
  1. It is easy to assume that our inherited patterns of church life are the non-negotiable core of our Christian faith. But are they? Most people below the age of around 45 do not participate, so there is no ‘next generation’ to pass them on to. Can you see this in your community, and what will you do about it?

  2. Jesus seems to be urging tolerance towards those who minister in his Name but who may not be recognised members of the disciples group (see v39-40 ‘those who are not against us are for us’). How do you reconcile these words with an apparently contradictory principle in Matthew 12.30?

  3. It has been suggested that the quickest way to undermine a person’s aspirations to social control is to keep the definitions of ‘belonging’ ultimately fluid and inclusive.* Do you agree, and how can your group avoid ‘domination’ by those who might wish to exercise such control? * Ched Myers,1988, Binding the Strong Man, ISBN 0-88344-621-9. Orbis, Maryknoll, page 252.

  4. Why is it so hard to grasp the fundamentals of practising the servant ministry of Jesus? He knows how powerful is the temptation to control others, especially the weak and vulnerable and those for whom we have responsibility; the desire for a sense of self-importance.
Praying Together

A candle is lit. Someone says, ‘The Lord is here.’ All: His Spirit is with us.

Recall from ‘Sharing Together’ above those occasions when you received help, or a kindness, or found an ally, from an unexpected source. Thank God for the person who did this and pray for a widening of our understanding. After each occasion mentioned, the contributor says,

‘Lord, may your Kingdom come.’
All: Your will be done on earth as in Heaven.

Prayer: Spend 5 minutes in silence, reflecting on the discussion following the questions in ‘Responding as a Community’.

Join together in the Lord’s Prayer.

Someone says, ‘Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth.”’ Have salt among yourselves and be at peace with each other.”’

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord. Amen.
Going Deeper

A candle is lit. Someone says, ‘The Lord is here.’ All: His Spirit is with us.

Recall from ‘Sharing Together’ above those occasions when you received help, or a kindness, or found an ally, from an unexpected source. Thank God for the person who did this and pray for a widening of our understanding. After each occasion mentioned, the contributor says,

‘Lord, may your Kingdom come.’
All: Your will be done on earth as in Heaven.

Prayer: Spend 5 minutes in silence, reflecting on the discussion following the questions in ‘Responding as a Community’.

Join together in the Lord’s Prayer.

Someone says, ‘Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth.”’ Have salt among yourselves and be at peace with each other.”’

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord. Amen.

Going deeper

Mark 9 verse 38

Mark appears to be alluding to the incident recorded in Numbers 11.26 where two men Eldad and Medad, who ‘were elders but they were apart from the rest of the elders, yet the Spirit rested on them as well’ were prophesying in the camp. Young Joshua (son of Nun) urges Moses to stop them, but he challenges him, ‘Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!’ Jesus seems to be comparing John’s reaction to that of Moses. For Moses the issue was one of sharing power and recognising gifts in the community of Israel. For John it was the desire for control and exclusivity. He sees the compassionate ministry of ‘deliverance’ in Jesus’ Name, as gaining power and status - sadly a too-common story in charismatic experience. This was especially ridiculous in view of the disciples’ evident inability and lack of power to do the same.

Verse 41. In the Name of Messiah, ‘in my name,’ see Karl Rahner in Ched Myers p262.

Salt and The Covenant of Salt. (see Numbers 18.19; Leviticus 2.13; 2 Chronicles. 13.5)

Leviticus 2.13. This refers to the grain offering, ‘do not leave the salt of the covenant of your God out of your grain offerings; add salt to all your offerings’.

Numbers 18.19. It is an everlasting covenant of salt before the Lord for both you and your offering.

2 Chronicles 13.5. Don’t you know that the Lord, the God of Israel has given the kingship of Israel to David and his descendents for ever by a covenant of salt?

See Ched Myers, 1988, Binding the Strong Man: a Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus, ISBN 0-88344-621-9. Orbis, Maryknoll.

Verse 42

Jesus gives a very severe warning to anyone who causes any of these ‘little ones’ who believe in him ‘to stumble’, to skandalize (a technical term in Mark = to reject the message of the Kingdom or to fall away and desert the path of discipleship).

Verse 49

Throughout the New Testament Jesus gives serious warnings about holiness of life as a condition for entering the kingdom God, and the possibility of utter loss symbolised by Jerusalem’s rubbish tip, ever-burning in the Valley of Hinnom (from which the name Gehenna). Fire purifies and removes dross.

Verse 50a

In the ancient world pure salt was a valuable commodity, used to add flavour and to purify. Jesus told his disciples that ‘you are the salt of the earth’ (Matthew 5.13). As salt gives flavour, purifies and permeates the entire dish in which it is put, so you will make a difference in the world, but here he warns them that they must beware of losing their distinctiveness and holiness, so becoming useless and worthless.

Verse50b

Have salt in or among) yourselves and be at peace. These words are notoriously difficult for us to interpret today from our culture. They probably refer to the idea of a ‘covenant of salt‘ which was a solemn and binding agreement of fellowship agreement and peace. (See Numbers 18.19; Leviticus 2.13; 2 Chronicles. 13.5). So in the light of what Jesus has just been saying about being the greatest and the least, the thrust of his words here are ‘be at peace among yourselves and stop squabbling about your status and get back on track’!

Mark's Alternative Economy - Discussion

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