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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Mark 9:38–50

John 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.” But 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. Whoever is not against us is for us. For 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.

“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. If 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. And 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. And 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, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

“For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt 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.” (NRSV)

“Whoever is not against us is for us” is as clear a rule as you could ask for. It’s a specific dictum addressed to disciples irked at the prospect of certain healers not following their script. The offending party was “not following us.” Jesus’ response? So what?

“‘Whoever is not against us is for us.” It’s more generous than its corollary, “Whoever is not with me is against me” (Matthew 12:30). “Whoever is not against us is for us” gives people the benefit of the doubt. “Whoever is not with me is against me” views people’s loyalty as suspect from the outset.

These words of Jesus feel timely to me, because I detect in our national discourse a resurgent enthusiasm for weeding out the “them” from the “us.” I hear it most loudly in conversation about immigration, where prominent voices speak in fearful tones about migrants, especially from Latin America. This view of people demands assurances of “with us” before it can relax into a welcome. Are you with us in your language? Are you with us in your behavior? Are you with us in your national loyalty?

I wonder what would happen if that posture changed, so that rather than demanding signs of loyalty as a condition of acceptance, we started with welcome and required signs of disloyalty to rescind it?

Jesus is not giving a speech about immigration here in Mark 9, I know. But he is coaching his disciples on a posture toward difference that starts with welcome. He is modeling trust of strangers first. I, for one, am trying to learn from that.

God, in Jesus Christ you are finally and ultimately for us. This is not our doing. It is marvelous to our eyes. May we be for you in all we do, even in our welcome of strangers. Through Christ. Amen.

Written by Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry

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