Mark 9: 38-50
Jesus heals. Jesus heals unclean people. Jesus heals on the sabbath. Jesus performs many mighty works. When you consider all of these things Jesus did, it would be very easy to heap all kinds of praise upon Jesus. We could go on and on about what a wonderful fellow He was and is and what a glorious thing it must have been to follow him. What awesome powers he must have possessed!
But in today’s gospel we discover controversy; someone ELSE is healing and doing a mighty work. A common ordinary follower of Jesus is healing somebody! Isn’t that supposed to be reserved for Jesus? How could a mere human being perform a miracle? Suddenly we are presented with all kinds of issues.
Does this mean that the miracles of Jesus were no big deal; something that anybody/everybody could do? Was Jesus just another in a long line of magicians or faith healers who were a dime-a-dozen and lived in every village and town in the country? Does the shine come off Jesus at this point?
It would be easy for us to be indignant at this gospel passage. After all, we lift Jesus up as Lord and Saviour and it seems a bit of a come-down that he should share his awesome power with mere mortals. If we were trying to reserve all these mighty works for Jesus alone, we might react negatively to this passage and we might be in good company.
It appears in the gospel that the disciples of Jesus were, themselves, more than a little put out with the fact that this individual was performing miracles. Who was this nobody, this outsider who was performing miracles?
It would be easy to get swept up in the controversy. However, I don’t want to pour water on the mighty works of Jesus, nor do I wish to cast any aspersions on this apparent interloper in the miracle game.
The important part of today’s gospel for me, is the foundation of those mighty works, both the works of Jesus and the works of this unknown disciple.
The foundation is AUTHORITY. Today’s gospel is about authority.
The ancient Hebrews were really big on authority, as were everybody else in ancient times; for them, it was everything. Your credibility was based on the authority someone else granted you.
The first reading, from the Old Testament, tells the story of Queen Esther who saved her people, the Hebrews, from annihilation.
Queen Esther is given the authority to make a petition on behalf of her people. Who gave her that authority? It was the King of Persia, Ahasuerus. Esther pleads for the lives of her fellow people, condemns the oppressor Haman and saves the life of her cousin Mordecai.
The Jewish people were saved from their enemies thanks to the only person who had the authority to spare them, the Persian King Ahasuerus and Queen Esther who was granted authority to speak for them.
The Old Testament lesson is also about authority.
The Hebrew people of Jesus’ day, believed strongly in authority. There was the political authority of their Roman oppressors. The Jewish people did not like that particular authority, but for good or ill, they recognized the authority. If you didn’t, the Romans killed you.
For the Hebrew people of the day, the real authority lay in their religion and their religious institutions. TRUE authority rested in the Temple of Jerusalem, the seat of everything religious and holy. True authority rested in the Temple, with the chief priests and scribes, with the upper crust of the religious elite. The Pharisees, those keepers of the law, they had authority to interpret the law.
Finally, when it came to the forgiveness of sins, only God, Yahweh, had that authority.
So it was natural that when the people of Jesus’ day saw Jesus, they wondered: Where did he get his authority? When Jesus began claiming that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, they struggled. Where did he get this authority to say these things? After all, isn’t this the carpenter’s son, the son of Mary and Joseph? Haven’t we watched him grow up before our eyes? On our street? Isn’t this the boy next door? AUTHORITY? He MUST have some sort of authority.
When he taught, they were amazed because he taught like one in authority. When he claimed to forgive sins, they cried blasphemy. Only God had the authority to forgive sins. He was claiming to be God; by what authority?
Throughout the ministry of Jesus, people were continually focused on his authority. The disciples of Jesus were convinced that Jesus had authority, authority from God. They came to the conclusion that Jesus was the son of God, God’s Messiah. The disciples of Jesus were a product of that environment, they understood authority. So when they came to the conclusion that Jesus had authority from God, they invested all authority in him.
But what is this? There is a mysterious follower of Jesus who is doing mighty works? Someone else is healing? By what authority? By OUR authority? Since Jesus had been replacing the authority of the Temple with himself, the disciples too, had been abandoning the authority of the Temple, the priests, the Pharisees, etc. They followed Jesus in that regard.
But the disciples were human beings who were not content with the authority of Jesus alone. There had to be other sources of authority, there had to be a chain of command and they concluded that THEY had to be part of that chain, part of that authority. They invested authority in Jesus, but also in themselves, their group. In ADDITION to Jesus, you had authority to do ministry if you were a part of their group. Not everybody can do miracles, you understand, only those who a part of OUR group can do those things. The disciples had closed the circle and had restricted the authority to heal and minister.
It was all about AUTHORITY. Authority you see, brought power and prominence, it brought fame and notoriety. You were needed, maybe even indispensable. Because YOU had the power and authority, you withheld it from others.
Jesus jumps all over the disciples’ notions of authority. Jesus quickly lets his disciples know that the authority to heal and minister in his name has nothing to do with power, fame, notoriety; it has everything to do with faith and most importantly, living out the faith.
This mysterious follower who is doing a mighty work, is acting out his faith and Jesus says to the disciples,
“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.”
Jesus means to say, that if the disciples act on any authority OTHER than the name of Jesus, they are inhibiting the faith of those who are trying to live it out. To impose THEIR authority instead of the authority of Jesus would be stumbling block to those who believe. It would be better to walk around with one foot, or one hand, or one eye, than to impose THEIR authority, over the authority of Jesus.
So Jesus says to them, relax, be at peace. Because you believe in me, because you follow me and do mighty works in my name, you have a flavour to you. Don’t lose that flavour.
The flavour, the saltiness that Jesus confers on his disciples, is his message and his authority. The message of Jesus was to be carried to the 4 corners of the earth and this message was to be carried by others.
The followers of Jesus were given this task to proclaim Jesus in word and deed and they were given the authority to do that, through the name of Jesus.
Jesus SHARES his saltiness with ALL of his disciples and those who weren’t necessarily his disciples.
So the followers of Jesus would go out and proclaim the glory of God as they had seen and experienced through Jesus. They proclaimed it because they could use his name.
We get a glimpse of the practise of the early Christians when we look at the book of James. In today’s second lesson the writer of James talks about a mighty work that was practised in the early church. He says, “Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.”
The early church ministered in the name of the Lord; they had authority.
The early Christian church had the authority from Jesus and they KNEW it.
What about THIS church, 2000 years later? Do we have the authority to proclaim the mighty works of Jesus in word and deed?
In our day and age I think one of our struggles as church is the struggle with the authority Jesus gives us. Too often religious belief is characterized as IMPOSING one’s beliefs upon others. Can we impose our beliefs on total strangers? People wonder if they can even impose their religious beliefs on their own children. Can we still be church in this day and age?
Jesus reminds us that the authority he gives us is the authority to be salt. He does not tell us to impose our beliefs, or lord it over other people, or make demands upon people before we minister to them.
Jesus simply tells us to be salt.
So we make quilts, we provide lunch at Glenwood Elementary, we do our street ministry. Who knows what else we will do, but we will be salt.
It is all about being salt.
Yesterday in Philadelphia, Pope Francis proclaimed in his sermon during mass that the history of the church is not about building walls but breaking them down. He said,
"It is a story about generation after generation of committed Catholics going out to the peripheries, and building communities of worship, education, charity and service to the larger society."
This applies to all Christian communities.
It is about being salt and nothing more.
We do indeed have the authority to proclaim Jesus. We are reminded in baptism that God has bought us and redeemed us with an incredible price. We have life, in the future and in the present, because Jesus died on the cross for our salvation and our forgiveness of sins. Through the resurrection, we go out and live out our faith. We are God’s own children and God through Jesus calls us to be workers in this kingdom.
We are to be salt and nothing more.
We understand that as we go out and proclaim in word and deed, Jesus gives us the authority. But thanks be to God, we only proclaim. We do not judge, nor do we impose our beliefs on anybody. We proclaim, we act as salt which means that God’s Holy Spirit is the one who convicts, the one who prods, the one who transforms the listener, the one receiving our ministry.
We are to be salt and nothing more.
Thanks be to God.