Mark 9:41

If anyone gives you a cup of water because you belong to Christ, I tell you, he will assuredly not lose his reward.

karma’s gift goes beyond
all religious boundaries
it belongs to no one
and connects to all

whether known or not
kindness delivered
blesses in both directions

continue offering an opportunity
for hospitality to shine within
each encounter

water will turn to wine
as person turns to person
with giving and receiving

We have heard in 9:39 that those who do “powerful” work of good, even if they are not part of the disciple’s LinkedIn network, are to be received as though they were a most important connection.

Waetjen160 reminds us:

In fact, there are those on the outside who may not be engaged in mighty works of liberation and healing. For one reason or another their resources are minimal. The most that they can do is to give the disciples a drink of water. Yet even they are not to be excluded, for their act, as insignificant as it may seem, contributes to human well-being. They too will have their reward.

Humans are famous for having a graduated scale of importance. We adore our hierarchies. Even at our lowest, we dream of finally being recognized and that when we are in charge there will come a new flowering of significance and life for all. By such dreams are we kept in thrall to economic and political systems until they can no longer cast their spell and their bankruptcy shines for all to see.

We have here a return to the sending out of the Twelve to stay with the first who will be hospitable, who will offer water after a dusty day of traveling. They are to stay with those who are generous in the little they have and do their work of healing in the context of humility.

Note in passing that the phrase, “because you belong to Christ”, is highly disputed even though it is clearly present in the earliest manuscripts. It’s difficulties are best resolved by passing over it and keeping the connection between those who do a mighty work and those who give a cup of water. This keeps the emphasis on healing and hospitality, not the status of the one who partners with others.

Mark 9:40

He who is not against us is for us.

you’ve heard it said
those not against you
are for you

that works
in partisan politics
but not in community

for it is as true
those not for you
are against you

to change hearts
behaviors need clarifying
choices are to be made

It is so easy to go looking for trouble. We take one slight variation of our belief structure to threaten the whole of our imaginative edifice. In turn we threaten to do in anyone who deviates in the smallest of jots and tittles.

The repetition here reminds us that when repetition is present we are to engage an extra pause to reflect on the connection of the repetition to our life. Usually this marks one of the places we easily go astray.

Time and again we need to begin with an understanding that people are doing the best they can with what they have available.

When someone does a good deed, a tikkun olam, that bridges a gap within another or between others, it is as though Jesus had done it. This is what partners do—live for one another. So, if a good is done under the aegis of our hero we claim the doer as an ally. If a good is simply done without an attribution, we claim the doer as an ally.

It is not the attribution of motive that makes the difference, but the very real help that is done. It is too easy to operate out of the motivational axis as a point of judgment. If we did it then it must be virtuous and if someone else did it out of a different motivation then it must be vicious and we are justified in being violent toward them.

There are overtones here of a golden rule. That which you wish done to you, presume that the arrival of your wish is not dependent upon the person, but their deed.

This is a basis of a much needed intersectionality. Wikipedia describes intersectionality as: “Intersectionality is a theory that considers that various human aspects, such as class, race, sexual orientation and gender, do not exist isolated and separated from each other, but have complex, influential and interwoven relationships, and those relationships are essential to understanding of the human condition.”

Seeing connections with others beyond our particular issue sets our molehill into a larger perspective (reduces the gaps in our life).

Mark 9:39

“None of you must prevent the man,” answered Jesus,“for no one will use my name in working a miracle, and yet find it easy to speak evil of me.

stop stopping people
I’m here to claim all good
I’ll even take responsibility
for that which no one wants
got it

this world is wobbly enough
without taking inappropriate slights
your job is not to over-function
as you learned to fish
it’s time to teach others
how to fish better than you do

Jesus puts a positive spin on hearing that healing is taking place in his name. In light of the suffering and death talk this is a sign of resurrection or realized eschatology already begun.

Living in anticipation of a next opportunity or life assists in the taking of a risk of suffering and death. This response is a helpful reframing of our setting, with its intersecting partners in all the various arenas of life.

In the Rhoads’ chapter on Social Criticism in Anderson173 we hear:

The narrative explicitly rejects guarding boundaries by excluding people…. those inside the network are to do nothing to set the limits of the community. Rather, they simply spread the influence of the network. Those outside the network who reject the followers of Jesus are the ones who set the limits of the network by their acts of rejection. Jesus tells the disciples that if others do not welcome them they are to leave that locale and shake the dust off their feet as a witness to the rejection (6:11). However, they do so only to confirm a decision already made by the outsiders rejecting them.
Furthermore, Jesus gives no directions for expulsion from the network. In fact, he strictly prohibits any attempt to dominate or exclude “the little ones who have faith” (9:42). Jesus himself, knowing that one of the Twelve is about to betray him, nevertheless offers the cup to him at the last communal (Passover) meal, and they all drink from it—including Judas (14:23). The Markan Jesus defines the boundary lines that distinguish insiders and outsiders; however, he prohibits the people in the network from guarding those lines. And because followers do not guard or maintain the boundary lines, there is no margin to the boundary. People can get in easily, and once inside, they can be at various levels of commitment or betrayal.

This is a helpful verse in times of confusion and/or schism.

Mark 9:38

“Teacher,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons by using your name, and we tried to prevent him, because he did not follow us.”

poor weak Jesus
gets the credit
so someone else
must protect his name
a monopoly broken
means less job security
for those down ladder

disciples are reactive
when it comes to a pecking order
their antennae lively
for the slightest danger
that they can’t report
they did it
all by themselves

If one of us isn’t going to be the greatest, it sure makes sense to be on guard against some nobody usurping our fantasy.

Everyone knows how G*D seems to have this fetish for the least expected being the one chosen for a next revelation. Right from the beginning it is the youngest who seems to be the apple of G*D’s eye. Abel’s “offering” to G*D was well accepted, approved, favored, heeded, liked, received, regarded, respected. Anyway you slice it, with no reason given, Abel turns out to be the saint and Cain the goat.

In today’s world the accusation wouldn’t simply be that someone else wasn’t one of us, but that they would be someone actively seen to be in competition with us. In this zero sum game the current candidate needed to be stopped would be a Muslim. During the Cold War of the 1950’s it would have been an atheistic communist (without the respect of capitalization). Between them it would have been some “bleeding-heart liberal”, “abortionist”, or “homosexual”.

When we have a monopoly on ultimate goodness, a gate-way to some divine, we get very possessive. This leads to a restricted vision of G*D and a refusal to be a partner by claiming the right of definition of who is in and who is definitely out. This is particularly true when we suspect we are not quite as in as we claim to be.

There is inherent in competition a certain laziness. We focus all our attention on winning and in so doing lose track of a next learning or engagement with the abundance of life. It is difficult to remain open to the energy needed to receive good news beyond checking it off. The opportunity to actually participate in the good news, making the needed changes (metanoia/change/repentance) takes fortitude as it usually brings forth the dreaded “suffering and death” that obscures any resurrection or next good news.

Mark 9:37

“Anyone who, for the sake of my name, welcomes even a little child like this is welcoming me, and anyone who welcomes me is welcoming not me, but him who sent me as his messenger.” 

a welcome of the unheard
is a connecting point
running through a disconnected world
a point in time extending
through planes and dimensions

every injustice perpetuated
disjoints false meanings
perplexed by prejudice
requiring a folding in
to incorporate a new day

to break a sequence of generations
isolates the genius of genes
calling the physical into being
and being redeemed by a new body
in this we face our own mercy

Child abuse, molestation, trafficking, soldiers are common enough that even front page headlines simply bring a resigned, “Oh, my.” The lot of children is not that of innocence.

To welcome a child is to mimic Francis welcoming a leper with an embrace and kiss. To welcome a child with honor for their uniqueness, rather than their extension of ourself, is still the work of every parent. To welcome a child is the joy of grandparenting and godparenting.

Not welcoming perpetuates our original mistrust and repeated betrayals. Not welcoming identifies where we miss our mark. In everyday language removed from its pseudo-religious context, not welcoming is the clearest example of “original sin”.

Myers121 notes a helpful source: Christy Swanson’s “Breaking the Power of the Lie: An Ethic of Just Regard for the Adult Survivor,” in Marie Fortune’s book, Violence in the Family: A Workshop Curriculum. Here a process is outlined for healing: 1) truth-telling, 2) confrontation with the abuser, 2) repentance of the abuser, and 4) forgiveness and reconciliation.

Here Mark has Jesus “elevate the child” (Sabin-284). Betrayed disciples trying to manipulate their way in the world need their betrayed child to be elevated so they can live out a generous and creative center. To address the desired privilege of the disciples there needs to be a reckoning with their inner child that can still be welcomed no matter the harm it has experienced, whether intentional or not. Here it is appropriate to pray and set things right.

Mark 9:36

Then Jesus took a little child, and placed it in the middle of them. Taking it in his arms, he said to them,

correcting a commissioned one
is never an easy proposition
as doctors of properness
they have answers well before
a question has begun

to have a fighting chance
conscious regression is needed
a remembrance of yearning
well before certification
still possible impossibilities

a child stands guard
with more keys than a kingdom
to lock and unlock tomorrow
far faster than present perks
can raise their self protections

here in our midst
we catch a glimpse
of a tomorrow beyond
our present highest fantasies
wrapped in another

Before jumping too quickly to what Jesus said (as though it were only the words at their literal level that makes a difference), it is helpful to reflect on the scene. Swanson220 does a good job of enfleshing the gospels through the lens of a play. Listen to his setup.

Be careful with the flow of this composite scene. It begins with stark words about Jesus’ death by torture. It ends with a child. In between, grown men engage in a testosterone joust. Some things do not change. Be careful how you understand the progression of these scenes within the scene. The natural conclusion might be that the crucifixion and the child are both alike symbols of humility, and they are placed in this scene to bracket and shame the arrogance of the middle scene. Be careful with such an interpretive line. Ask yourself where you got the notion that the child is a picture of humility (or worse, humiliation) somehow comparable to the crucifixion. This is a typical reading of this scene, but it is troublesome. Children occupy a tenuous enough place in human communities without linking them imaginatively with an obscenity like crucifixion.

Could the operative flow in the passage be something more like from rejection to welcome? if the flow is sketched that way, the middle term, in which the disciples embarrass themselves yet again, becomes a picture of people too inattentive to catch the tragedy of the first moment, and too full of themselves to catch the last.

The lacuna of life between inattention and too full of what we think we know and deserve shields us from the empathy needed to connect our life with the lives of others and flourish as partners.

Mark 9:35

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wishes to be first, he must be last of all, and servant of all.”

calling all disciples
come in disciples

a double call
for those doubly far

caught on a mountaintop
playing king of this and all

like a whistle cutting through
papered over dissonance

from a dream awoken
we start again

rolling our best intention upward
until worn away leaving us with stone

this rock we heave at heaven
only to have it ricochet wildly

time to hear our call again
lest none be left

We can almost hear grandfather Jesus sit with a dejected plop, call the kids and ask, “All right, who started this argument?”

Faced with twelve hung heads wreathed with silence, he continues, “Well, it doesn’t matter as every everyone restarted the argument.”

Without expecting that this teaching opportunity will bear any more fruit than before, ancient ones continue to witness to their vision and experience…, “Whoever wants to be first must be least of all and the servant of all.”

Implied in this is an understanding that no matter where one ends up on a ladder of success, there will yet be suffering, there will still be death. At issue is whether any of that will have a redemptive quality. Will it make a difference that a life was lived with an integrity that placed compassion and partnership with friends and neighbors at the center of decision-making? Whether or not such a difference extends to others who see and draw near to join in such changed living, it yet remains satisfying to the merciful; it is their world sustained.

For those who are tracking such things:

This is the third time that Jesus summons and instructs the Twelve…another Markan triad. The first time Jesus sends them out as apostles “to preach…drive out demons” (3:14–15); the second time…“take nothing for the journey” (6:8); here…to be servants…. Mark shows Jesus teaching…how to give up the pursuit of worldly power. ~ Sabin-284

Mark 9:34

But they were silent; for on the way they had been arguing with one another which was the greatest.

fascinated by zero sums
my 1 cancels out your 1
and both lose
infinite zeros do not resolve

everything is war even love
for fair always tilts
toward the beholder
more than beauty forever

no more make it great again
for it always has been
its destiny eternally manifest
gaze upon this cedarn cover

It turns out that the argument chosen to avoid a transformation that would change the world was not about process but privilege.

O the irony!

The teaching is oriented toward Isaiah’s “suffering servant”. The learning is oriented to the persistence of the present as described by Waetjen158,

Jesus returns to Capernaum once more for a final visit. His work has come full circle. Here in this commercial center of Galilee he launched his ministry of teaching, liberation, and healing in order to fulfill his commission to establish God’s rule. His disciples, who have followed him in response to his proclamation of the imminence of God’s rule, have witnessed his extraordinary activity and struggled to determine who he is. Although they have been unsuccessful in identifying him, they have persisted in their hierarchical orientation. Dispossessed by the upper class, they remain captive to the prevailing mentality of their society. The socioeconomic pyramid, with its descending levels of power and privilege. is evidently considered to be natural.

Those who have been through Mark’s cycle before know there will be yet one more meeting between Jesus and the disciples in Galilee. Those who have carefully noted along the way how Mark works in triads could be prepared for a third meeting that will be different than the first two (which could be said to be a spinning of the wheels in the muck and mire of business as usual). Either way, that is another story for another time.

There is not only irony at work here, but aptness. The typicality of this argument is strong. In a situation that began with a call to change one’s life, we have here an example of the strength of status quo. The more we are called to be uncommon, the stronger we find the common to have attached itself to our self and we, once again, have become our parents.

Mark 9:33

They came to Capernaum. When Jesus had gone into the house, he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?”

a lack of questions
only deepens arguments

each and every certainty
wedges a wider gap

so many bystander perspectives
cancel each other out

was it one shot or three
from that knoll or rooftop

who knows how we first tangled
only now there is no web escape

we’ve now killed one another
not even 6 creation-days will suffice

I know you can be mistaken
I’m still not sure about me

On a journey of learning about the consequences of living a life that mimics deep compassion through the short-hand command of “love your neighbor”—embodying a new way of living while still suffering and dying amidst an economic–political–social model of scarcity—it appears that those who were supposed to be learning a new way of being have been side-tracked by a shiny object (privilege).

They could be arguing about any number of past wonderings about seeds or identity or loaves or weather witching or prayer or . . . .

Almost any past conundrum can be used as a present excuse to avoid a current difficulty. It is so much easier to return to a typical sophomoric speculation than stick to an immediate concern. Even though we still won’t be able to argue our way out of a koan, it feels much more manageable than being stuck with trading our contracted identity for new suffering. Phrased this way it importantly mirrors other traditions that trade suffering for a new identity.

This is not untypical for all those important questions along the way that we have put off for one reason or another. We need only remember that the disciples were afraid to ask Jesus about what we call the hero’s journey synopsized into suffering, death, and new life. When the basic questions are avoided there is an automatic backsliding to smaller and smaller arguments raised to higher and higher stakes to distract us from the persistence of the reality of Empire all around and an intentional and mistaken dismissal of a healing balm that would rouse a slumbering repentance with a kiss of hope.

Mark 9:32

But the disciples did not understand his meaning and were afraid to question him.

of course they didn’t understand
even more off course is our claim
that we unquestioningly get it
no questions about specialness
just ask us how nice we are
we’ll let you know how much nicer
you could be than bring this up

still trying to go by the book
in Metaphorland
get definitions lined out first
thins mystery to a dictionary
and not a recent one at that
so a lot of nodding goes on
as hypnotized sleep-walkers shuffle on

It will be easy for readers to deride the disciples and expect their privileged position will keep them from the same error of being silenced by a projection of fear of suffering and death.

Sabin-1177 reminds us,

The disciples are stand-ins for the audience, and their “slowness to understand” functions as a device that stimulates the response of the hearer; when they fail to hear or see, the listener is moved to fill in the blanks. Finally, the very weakness of the disciples serves the theological purpose of highlighting God’s inclusiveness. Their glaring faults indicate that they are decidedly not a special elite. Through his images of the non-comprehending disciples Mark excludes no one but invites all who listen to identify.

Our place of identification goes beyond simply not knowing the rest of the story. There are usually several spots in our lives where we are caught between not understanding and not wanting to understand because the consequence of understanding would be to change the direction of our life from putting ourselves and our comfort first.

Stephen D. Moore’s chapter on “Deconstructive Criticism” in Anderson97–101 follows Derrida in suggesting that which puts the disciples in a position of being both insiders and outsiders is that Jesus’ plain speaking is more like writing than speaking. Writing loses some author-ity, leading to a willingness to let mis-understanding stand. We get the disciples more when we are more skeptical of ourselves.

“Writing, traditionally, is the errant medium with its meaning cut adrift from the consciousness of its producer…. Jesus’ speech is unable to reach its mark. It falls to the ground and is picked up wrongly…. Like Jesus who drifts from misunderstanding to misunderstanding across the surface of Mark’s page, writing has always been a wandering outcast drifting from (mis)reading to (mis)reading.”