38John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39But Jesus said, “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. 40Whoever is not against us is for us. 41For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
42“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. 43If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. 47And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, 48where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
49“For everyone will be salted with fire. 50Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
Translation: John was saying to him, "Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, who was not following us, and we forbid him because he was not following us." But Jesus said, "Do not forbid him, for there is no one who will do a powerful deed in my name (and) will be able quickly to speak badly of me, for who is not against us is for us. For whoever might give you a cup of water in my name because you are of Christ, truly I say to you that that one does surely not lose their reward."
"And whoever might scandalize one of these faithing little ones, it is better for that one if a jackass millstone is bound about his neck and he has been thrown into the sea. And if your hand scandalizes you, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into the life maimed than having two hands to enter into the Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire. And if your foot might scandalize you, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into the life lame than having two feet to be thrown into the Gehanna. And if your eye might scandalize you, throw it out; it is better for you to enter into the kingdom of God one-eyed than having two eyes to be thrown into the Gehanna, where their worm does not die and the fire does not go out. For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt (is) good, but if the salt has become saltless, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another."
Background and situation: We are in a section of Mark which deals primarily with teaching the disciples as they go "on the way" to Jerusalem--teaching which the disciples regularly, and rather spectacularly, fail to grasp.
In chapters 8-10, Jesus makes a statement about his coming passion and death on three occasions. In the first, Peter didn't like what Jesus said and "rebuked" him. In the second, the disciples argue about which of them is the biggest big shot.
Jesus responds in an interesting way. He says, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." Where the world is organized heirarchically, Mark proposes an inverse heirarchy.
Then Jesus placed a child--in that world, a nobody, in other words--"in their midst", then picked the child up to embrace it, and said that the one who welcomes that nobody welcomes God.
"Not following us"?: Then, John pipes up--the only time John speaks in any of the synoptic gospels!--and says, in a literal translation, "Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, who was not following us, and we forbid him because he was not following us."
The phrase "not following us" occurs twice in the Greek text. Mark obviously wants to emphasize that point. The King James Version (KJV) gets this part of it right and the New Revised Standard (NRSV) does not. Point, King James.
Following Jesus earns high praise throughout the book of Mark. For Mark, the very definition of discipleship is to follow Jesus, particularly "following Jesus on the way," as in the case of Bartimaeus (10:46-52).
Not once, however, does Mark ever suggest following the disciples. John's remark that some unknown exorcist is casting out demons even though "not following us" seems almost egregiously clueless--even more so when you consider that just twenty verses previous (9:18) the disciples had been unable to cast out a demon!
Note, too, that the unnamed exorcist is casting out demons "in your name." Jesus had just spoken of receiving children "in my name," yet John uses that same expression to gripe about some guy who was doing what the disciples themselves could not do!
Moreover, Jesus had just spoken of "welcoming" of children--the word "welcome" occurs three times in one verse, a strong word of inclusion--and now John wants to exclude on the basis of the exorcist not being "not one of us."
Jesus responds gently at first. He says, in effect, "Anyone who does a mighty work in my name will probably speak well of me for at least a little while afterward." Put another way: "If they speak well of me in such a public way, they're committed!" To further the point, he adds: "...for who is not against us is for us." Then Jesus says:
"For whoever might give you a cup of water in my name because you are of Christ, truly I say to you that that one does surely not lose their reward."
Mark emphasizes this statement in two ways. First, it contains a "truly" clause--amen lego humin, "truly I say to you." We are meant to pay special attention when we read those words. Second, the saying is, for Mark, a rare use of the word "Christ."
The word "Christ" appears six times in Mark, right at the beginning in what is, in reality, the title of the book: "The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ", twice in the teaching section "on the way", and finally four times in the passion narrative. For Mark, the word "Christ" is a short-hand designation that means: "The Crucified One who pours out his life for others who, it turns out, is also Son of God."
This sounds political. In fact, it sounds like a political strategy meeting for a nascent "under the radar" peoples' movement. It's as if Jesus were saying: Anyone speaking well of us in a public way is thenceforth on our side, at least for awhile. Whoever is not opposing us is, at least potentially, part of our movement. If anyone does anything at all to help, they're with us.
They will "surely not lose their reward." This is the only use of misthos--reward--in Mark's gospel, though it is used in several places in the rest of the New Testament. The word has the sense of proper pay, the wages due to someone for their labor. Anyone who helps will of course not lose what is already theirs.
Then the tone shifts dramatically. After strongly affirming those who help, Jesus then castigates those who interfere. Anyone who "scandalizes" any of the "faithing little ones" are in for big trouble. The word "scandalize"--scandalise--literally means "cause to stumble." The word is typically used by Mark to indicate falling away from following Jesus. See, for example, Mark 4:17: "...when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away (scandalizontai)."
Most of the people who followed Jesus were poor--dirt poor, in most cases. Indeed, in any crowd of people in first century Israel, 95% of them would have been very poor. The percentage would have even been higher in those parts of the country most frequented by Jesus. Most of his effort was in the villages, towns, and countryside of Galilee--farmers and fishermen, in other words, who were the ones most affected by economic depression, and farthest from the seats of power.
Cause anyone of these "little ones" to fall away and there will be, literally, hell to pay. Scandalize one of these "little ones", cause them to fall away, and it would be better to have a large millstone put around your neck and be thrown into the sea. (There were two kinds of millstones. One, a lighter one, was pushed by women. The larger one--the one specifically mentioned here (mulos onikos)--was pushed by a jackass.)
Then follow three sayings--one each regarding the hand, the foot, and the eye--in which if any one of these causes you to fall away (scandalizei, again,in each instance), cut it off or throw it out. Better to be maimed than to go to Gehenna.
Most translations have "hell," but the word is "Gehenna." This referred to the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, a ravine south of Jerusalem where child sacrifices to Moloch had taken place (Jer 7:31) several centuries before Jesus. As part of his religious reform in the late 7th century BC, King Josiah had "defiled" the place so it could no longer be used (2 Kgs 23:10). By the time of Jesus, it had come to symbolize a place of judgment or punishment.
Our text is odd in that is does not have a verse 44 or 46. The earliest and best manuscripts do not have these two verses. It is interesting, though, that some early manuscripts added them in. In those manuscripts, verses 44 and 46 are identical to verse 48: "...where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched."
Though the best manuscripts do not have the expression repeated three times, at least a few early copyists wanted to underline the connection with Isaiah 66:24, the last verse of the book of Isaiah, from whence the expression comes: "And they shall go out and look at the dead bodies of the people who have rebelled against me; for their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh."
These are strong words. Some scholars believe the text is especially applicable for the time when Mark was writing. Werner Kelber, for example, argues that Mark was written during the last year of the Roman-Jewish War (AD 69-70). After some initial success in this war, the rebels had been forced back into the city of Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, they were making their last stand.
People in the city of Jerusalem were divided. Some wanted to fight on against the Romans at whatever the cost. Others wanted to negotiate a surrender. The fanatical hard-liners won out, and put pressure on the others to continue the fight against the Romans. Kelber and others believe that Mark is writing to help stiffen the resolve of the followers of Jesus not to engage in these calls for continued violence.
Be at peace: Mark is said by some--not by me, but by some--to have its source in Peter. (If that is the case, then Peter must have been the humblest Christian who ever lived because Peter almost always comes off poorly in Mark.)
I see more of a connection to Paul. For one thing, Mark's over-all theology--the centrality of the cross, the paradoxical reign of Christ crucified--is essentially Pauline. Secondly, you can see certain possible traces of Paul in Mark, such as the story of the syrophoenician woman in chapter 7 where Jesus says "the children (Jews) be fed first." This seems to express the Pauline view that Jesus was for "the Jew first, and then to the Greek" (Romans 1:16).
Hand, foot, and eye are all mentioned in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians (12:12-31). Considering that Paul wrote about 20 years before Mark, it is quite likely that Paul's metaphor of the church as "body" might have circulated throughout the very early church.
If a part of the body of Christ causes one of the "faithing little ones" to fall away, that part should be cut off. Betrayal of the movement carries a heavy price!
The lection closes with, believe it or not, healing words: "For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt (is) good, but if the salt has become saltless, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another." ("Be at peace"--eureneuete--occurs only here and in Paul, Rom 12:18; 2 Cor 13:11; 1 Thess 5:13.)
Salt and fire were used in first century medicine to heal wounds. If a member of the community is cast out for betrayal, that wound can be treated and healed. Ched Myers cites Fledderman to note that the expression to "have salt" is equivalent to "be at peace." To the problem of scandal in the community, Mark proposes healing and peace.
Taking the lection as a whole, the outsider acting in concert with the movement is to be affirmed. Insiders who subvert the purposes of the movement, however, are to be "cut out." Internal harmony is to be maintained. Centuries later, these are still the standard operating procedures for grassroots movements.