Mark 9:43

If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It would be better for you to enter the life maimed, than to have both your hands and go into Gehenna, into the fire that cannot be put out.

a wobbly hand
pulling back an arrow
letting go before
an intention is clear
fails a test of ultimacy

Rhoads in Anderson175 observes that the Markan Jesus “gives place to moral behavior over against physical wholeness.” He goes on to indicate:

…the purity that comes from physical wholeness is not a criterion for being acceptable to God: rather, what makes one acceptable is the moral behavior that comes out of the heart. This concern for morality over ritual purity and physical wholeness is evident in the “wise” statement of the scribe that loving God and the neighbor with the “whole” heart is more important than all the “whole” burnt offerings and sacrifices.
As such, the only maintenance Jesus recommends for the bodily boundary is for followers to do whatever they must do in order not to let harmful actions come out from their own heart. One guards not the body but the heart so that what comes out of the heart is life-giving for others rather than destructive.

The description of the “wise” scribe is appropriate as this form is similar to much in Wisdom literature. This is proverbial.

It is important to recognize and honor the distance between toleration for those outside a narrow band of acceptability (unauthorized healers and little poor ones) and the zero-tolerance of variation from those within the movement (whole heart means no harm). The surface of these two descriptors is difficult for those who tend toward literalism as the energy levels are quite different. There is danger inherent in graceless mutilation that requires moral purity.

Swanson225 looks for a pattern to these sorts of extreme statements and finds it following the first mention of crucifixion in Mark 8. He goes on to warn:

Watch how Christian groups use the image of the cross. You will see many things, a wide variety. Look especially for instances in which the cross is figured as a weapon. This will be something to worry over, the way a dog worries over a bone. Is there something about the way Christians understand Messiah and crucifixion that leads to violence? Remember the name of the white supremacist group: The Cross, The Sword, and the Arm of the Lord.

Mark 9:42

“And, if anyone puts temptation in the way of one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be far better for him if he had been thrown into the sea with a great millstone around his neck.

trip and fall
quickly look around
did anyone notice
how soon can I forget

trip and fall
whether seen or not
a communal event
embarrassing disorienting

trip and fall
is existential
not ontological
mistakes happen

push and constrain
changes the equation
intentionally trip
carries no excuse

dismiss and fell
a widow or orphan
economically disadvantage

sets a stage
for a correction day
a getting up morning
a mutual grace

Those who can only give a cup of water are the “little ones” here, not generic children.

Again, Waetjen161:

For those who can do nothing more than give a cup of water are the subjects of [Jesus’] concern. They are “the little ones” whose economic resources, social status, and political power are minimal and therefore belong to the underside of agrarian society…. They are the disinherited who, deprived of being, have virtually no identity and little or no sense of self-worth.

This identification of a mercy and justice locus reminds us to look again at those in our life. The Prophets and Prophetesses, Jesus, Benedict and Scholastica, Francis of Assisi and Claire, John Wesley, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Pope Francis all see relations with the poor as critical to the change needed to bring good news out in the open from its place of exile in each and every Empire. When we lose track of those who have only a cup of water, we have lost track of ourselves.

A millstone or an albatross around our neck makes no difference. The fault lies in ourselves, not our stars.

It is at this juncture in our psyche that we can begin to link repentance with resurrection. That which keeps us from recognizing our separation from our neighbor also keeps us from becoming the good news we so desperately desire and find so distant.

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.