Next Sunday is the 26th Sunday in Year B of the lectionary cycle with the Gospel reading be taken from Mark 9:38-48. As in the gospel of last Sunday, this gospel also continues the teaching and preparation of the disciples. In this passage it seems clear that Jesus is pointing out some of the problems that the community will face – and many of them can be understood as problems of the human condition. The concerns of this coming Sunday’s passage are: (1) ambition among themselves (vv. 33–37); (2) envy and intolerance of others (vv. 38–41); and (3) scandalizing others (vv. 42–48).
It is good to remember that Jesus has just said to the Twelve: “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the one who sent me.” In this Sunday’s gospel it would seem the children are still present in the scene, as Jesus says, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin….” (Mt 9:42)In our time we have a different view of children. We hold children to be innocent and precious. This does not seem to have been the view of 1st century. In ancient culture, children had no status. They were subject to the authority of their fathers, viewed as little more than property. Perkins [p. 637] writes: “… the child in antiquity was a non-person…Children should have been with the women, not hanging around the teacher and his students (cf. 10:13-16). To say that those who receive Jesus receive God does not constitute a problem. A person’s emissary was commonly understood to be like the one who sent him. But to insist that receiving a child might have some value for male disciples is almost inconceivable.” Perkins is pointing out that Jesus is telling the disciples that while there are times they will indeed be Jesus’ emissaries, but this is not the problem at hand. The problem is that the Twelve cannot conceive of welcoming the least important people in society, those ranked lowest in human convention. Yet Jesus is saying, “you’ll need to work your way down to the most marginal and lowest (by human convention) in order to find me. I am last of all.” The Kingdom of God involves giving status to those who have none. The disciples are not to be like children, but to be like Jesus who embraces the child, the one held to be least of all in human convention.
38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.” 39 Jesus replied, “Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. 40 For whoever is not against us is for us. 41 Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward. 42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe (in me) to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire. 44 …. 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life crippled than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna… 46…47 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna, 48 where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ (Mark 9:38–48)
The key phrase that has importance for this Sunday’s gospel is: “in my name.” The issue of unauthorized prophets appears in the Old Testament as well (Numbers 11:26–30). Use of the “name of Jesus” played an important role in the early church (Acts 3:6, 16; 4:7, 10, 30; James 5:14). The phrase denotes the source of power, but it also will reveal the sense of who is “inside” and who is “outside.” In last Sunday’s gospel, Jesus pulls a child “inside” and bids the Twelve to welcome and include the child. In this Sunday’s gospel we will see how well the lesson was received.
The word “name” occurs frequently in chapter 9:
- Whoever welcomes one such child in my name.. (v. 37)
- …someone driving out demons in your name… (v. 38)
- …no one who performs a mighty deed in my name… (v. 39)
- …whoever gives you a cup of water to because you belong to Christ… [the literal translation of this verse is “because you bear the name of Christ.”] (v. 41)
“In Jesus’ name” seems to indicate the motivation by which one does something — welcoming a child, casting out demons, doing mighty deeds. Bearing the name of Christ and acting in Christ’s name seems to indicate belonging to Christ or acting as a representative of Christ or perhaps even, being Christ’s presence. But as Stoffregen notes, Mk 13:6 states: “Many will come in my name saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will deceive many.” How do we know if those who act in Christ’s name really belong to Christ or are leading us astray? One way that the early church tried to assure the people that their ordained leaders were truly acting “in Christ’s name” was that all pastors had to be ordained, and thus certified to be orthodox by bishops; and all new bishops needed at least three older bishops to certify that the new ones were orthodox in their beliefs and actions.