Sometimes it seems that our divisions never cease. Despite Jesus’ prayer that we all may be one, one body under the Lordship of Christ, the Church is split up into innumerable bodies, each thinking that the other body gets something big totally wrong and is probably at least a little crazy. I’m as guilty as anybody – it wasn’t a month ago when I made fun of Martin Luther for half a sermon. But as guilty as I am, it can be frustrating to watch and be a part of the things that divide us in the Church and in the world.
Today’s passage from Mark was, in many ways, about division and frustration, namely Jesus’ frustration with the divisions and, honestly, the bluntness of His disciples.
So Jesus goes off a bit… the “list of images (He) used in the span of only a few short verses becomes rather long rather fast: a cup of water, a millstone, cutting off feet and hands, gouging out eyeballs, a worm, a fire, salt. Image-wise, this feels like trying to drink from a firehose!
“What accounts for this torrent of words and images here? What accounts for Jesus kind of going off here in this barrage of images, all of which trend in the direction of the severe? Is Jesus getting a little frustrated here? Frustration is no sin, so far as I can tell. Frustration could lead to sin but emotion-wise it may be no different than feeling happy or sad, surprised or troubled.
“In Mark 9, I suspect Jesus was getting frustrated. What was it going to take to get some basic truths through the thick skulls of these disciples? In the lection prior to this one in Mark 9:30-37, Jesus had to deal with the ludicrous spectacle of his disciples’ responding to yet another…prediction from him that he was going to suffer and die with an argument about which of the disciples was “the greatest.” So in (very clear language), Jesus sat the disciples down to tell them that their perspective was upside-down when it came to the kingdom of God. Servants were the great ones. Losers were the winners. To further provide an object lesson, Jesus gives what was quite literally a “Children’s Sermon” by grabbing a little child from among the little kids…and then holding up that lowly little loser (since that’s how society viewed children back then) as their role model.”1
Right on the heals of that debacle, the disciples inform Jesus that someone they didn’t know, someone who they thought didn’t measure up, was using Jesus’ Name to drive out demons, but the disciples, in all their wisdom, put an end to all of that.
All of this was giving Jesus a headache – I imagine Him with His face in His palms, not knowing whether to laugh or cry. What I don’t have to imagine is the hammer He brought out: “You idiots,” I only wish Jesus said, “ he who is not against us is for us.”
“You idiot,” Jesus probably says to me every time I complain about those other Christians, “if they’re not against me they are for me.” It is remarkably easy to criticize others, to account for who is in and who is out, and worst of all, to dismiss others, pretend they don’t exist. One of the things that tough not to notice is that when Bordentown has its ecumenical or interfaith services, like on the evening before Thanksgiving, Bordentown’s historically black churches just aren’t there. After years of not really being invited, they do their own thing. The clergy breakfast is on Tuesday morning, so if you’re bi-vocational, you can’t attend. The different denominations just in our own city often seem to work against each other rather than working together for the cause of Christ. Work is being done to begin dismantling the de facto segregation of our city’s parishes, but it’s going to take time and effort to repair our divisions.
That work begins here. It begins at the font, remembering that Christ welcomes all who seek after Him. It begins at the altar, where Christians of all nations come to receive the Lord in His Body an Blood. It begins anew whenever we do good for anyone, and especially for those who cannot repay us, for in so doing we serve the Lord in others. It can be that simple: loving God and your neighbor. That’s how divisions cease and the Kingdom of God is glorified.
1Scott Hoezee, This Week