Mark 9:24

[Note: I just noted that this posting is marked as having missed its scheduled posting last January 2nd. Apparently, Jan 1st was too wild. Too bad there are no memories of it (though, given the prevalence of false memories in current national leadership it may be just as well). In theory its posting 8 months late will be just the right time for someone to read it. ~Wesley]

The boy’s father immediately cried out, “I have faith; help my want of faith!”

as per usual
it’s all about me

a bargained for affirmation
has questionable efficacy

where does taking faith upon ourself
fit with borrowing faith from another

a key element in a new good news
is the sharing of faith

to trust where another doesn’t
is prelude to direct action

disrupting our usual establishment
hierarchies claiming power

with no intersectional partnered trust
division after division brings nothing

In the first part of Mark, miracles of healing take place, BANG, now. We are now looking at slower healing with a process involving and almost requiring special faith and prayer.

In light of the context of healing, we might be aided by a translation into Marathi that would mean, “cast out my unbelief”, (Bratcher288).

Galston147 is evocative of appreciative unbelief:

The existence of God… requires belief because God is absent. What about people…who say they experience God? This makes the point: we experience God in the yearning for God, which is the presence of the absence of God clinging to our hearts. In such conditions I must say “I believe, help my unbelief (Mark 9:24). My act of believing is against unbelief, against the consequence of the absence of God. So, believing is willfully taking a leap over the abyss of absence without knowing where one might land. Such is religion: it exists because God does not exist; it is the willfulness of being human. It is the act of leaping across unbelief. Like Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855), the great founder of Existentialism, said, belief is the condition of uncertainty. Belief is about lying “constantly out upon the deep and with seventy thousand fathoms of water” underneath. Such oceanic depth is Kierkegaard’s metaphor for bottomlessness, for emptiness. God is not about certainty, and religion is not about God’s existence. Religion is about creating God while it awaits God. Religion is the “almost” of God; that is, religion is the record of beliefs that arise while waiting for the arrival of nothing. Religion is the trace of a God, culturally conditioned, who almost is.

Today “wisdom in religion involves the act of creating value out of nothing”; consumerism and technology substitute for G*D.

Mark 9:50

Salt is good, but, if the salt should lose its saltiness, what will you use to season it? 
You must have salt in yourselves, and live at peace with one another.”

antecedents are tricky
when talking of salt
think fire
that burns tongue
and all connected to it

should your flame burn out
how in the middle of the deep
rekindle fire
with no things no body
at beck or call

fire ants know connection
even in a whelming flood
living fire
floating toward a next shore
to begin again

mere humans need intention
to build a sustainable community
prevenient fire
leaping up when ebbing
encouraged one to another

This conversation began with a question about what the disciples were arguing about between themselves (9:33). The result is to remains salty with one another as well as with those in the world around them.

There are many references of the importance of salt. It is used in religious rituals, healing, and preserving; it is a sign of hospitality, disobedience, genocide; and more.

The repetition of salt from the last verse suggests a connection with suffering brought on through a lack of awareness of an independent good and its transgression leading to “hell” in this life or whatever is projected after it.

Mark is using salt as a vehicle of choice and transformation between arguing (fighting over a limited resource) and suffering (lived consequence of living wider and deeper than the convention of any society or politics of the day) and the way of healing (returning to a wholeness of salvation, hospitality, healing) and peace (connecting a wider context and deeper identity into a new partnership).

What happens if “you” lose “yourself”? How will you regain your right mind? [Substitute “salt” for “you”.]

If we peek ahead, Acts 1:4 records Jesus’ post-rising “meeting with” (συναλίζω, synalizō, “while having salt with”) the disciples. This affirmation and assurance of peace beyond rivalry, betrayal, and abandonment stands as an ever-present choice. This peace beckons us beyond any present suffering and death. Fear not.

Mark 9:49

For it is by fire that everyone will be salted. 

fire as condiment
breaks our first impression
until we remember
roast corn
anything grilled

fire as testing
asks for a retreat
to remember
contextual details

fire for everyone
get yours here
get it now
its been on its way
forever and a day
present just on time

Mann383 says, “The best way to describe the textual evidence for this verse is to say it is confused.” Later he adds, “The translation of the verse as it stands presents no difficulty, but the interpretation is a very different matter, and many and various have been the attempts at interpretation.”

The Scholar’s Version reads, “As you know, everyone there is salted by fire.” Schmidt104, notes: “Some mss add: And every sacrifice will be salted by fire, apparently an attempted explanation based on Lev 2:13, “Ever sacrifice shall be seasoned by salt.”

These variants remind us that scripture continues to be a living thing that calls us to discern that which is helpful within it and that which needs to be pruned. Non-standard approaches can be helpful and may even be required to clear away accumulated debris from the bones of scripture.

Salt has long been used as a tool for healing. Fire or cauterization is the final stage of amputation before care for the wound can begin. Together, “salt which cleanses and fire which refines” (Waetjen162) mark a worm’s turning. Together, they are a sign of purification (a leaving of the past and entering a vision of a better tomorrow)—see Ezekiel 42:23-24.

The journey leading to this particular teaching returns to the sending out of the Twelve. Their going forth with humility enough to be welcomed on a basis beyond what they (or we) bring, is a cutting off of their (or our) competition with one another and/or privileging themselves (or ourselves) over any little one. This brings forth other images of a call to fish where there are no fish; as salt seasoning another’s life; and as fire beckoning and warming lost or frozen lives anywhere.

Alone or partnered, a change in life leads to more change.

Mark 9:48

where their worm does not die, and the fire is not put out.

Isaiah’s closing image
defeats much
shepherding compassion

Marks’ undying worms
defeat much
shepherding hospitality

our various -isms
defeat much
decisional mercy

every vanity
defeats much
communal intersection

If this continues Mark’s wisdom writing we can move in two different directions in the present. The first is to be fruitfully drawn to addiction and the struggle to be free of its power.

The process of recovery can feel like a part of oneself is being amputated. There is a denial of self needed to become a more whole self. In an addictive culture this is a never-ending series of reshapings through what Mark describes as repentance and changed living.

Wright118, surfaces a quote from Gerald May’s book, Addiction and Grace, “Any struggle with addiction…involves deprivation. Every false prop is vulnerable to relinquishment.” Wright continues, “Such ‘amputation’ is life-saving surgery on the cancer of our illusions and appetites.”

The future of addiction is forever set without a turning—we are our own torturer.

Alternatively, Sartre’s play, No Exit, ends with the famous line, “Hell is other people”. Again, we will need to approach this through a vision of wisdom, not apocalypse. This is not a literalism that others are our torturer, though we all know someone who drives up a wall.

We have here a reminder of tendency to find our meaning in relationship to other people. What we understand of their meaning shapes our own to the point of always feeling their eye upon us, measuring us, judging us. This constraint amputates our own life that we might be received.

Our attempt to divinize Jesus, or any other, returns us to worminess when left to our own devices and traps us, even in an open and virtuous system. To be a follower, here, is to be caught in the context of our leader—a ritualistic religious system in an occupied country. At question is whether or not we are able to deal with present rituals and occupation in a freeing way or if we are so locked into an institutional model that we need to amputate significant portions of its once-parabolic nature and subsequent analogization.

Mark 9:47

If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It would be better for you to enter the kingdom of God with only one eye, than to have both eyes and be thrown into Gehenna,

remorse is not easy
there is no putting it aside
sublimating rebounds
or otherwise
sending it away
brings seven times the sorrow

popular disbelief
sees death as a healing
all made right
discarded eyes redeemed
lost relationships rejoined
here a lost eye is still lost

our fantasy of perfection
takes both eyes off the prize
of abundant living on earth
in its place we choose
a deeply divided separation
with an eternal gap

all of this
to stop a non-clone
epitomizing compassion
without our cut
we go far afield
irony aplenty

With yet a third repetition it begins to sound as though what seems like apocalyptic sound and fury might better be seen as wisdom writing. The use of rhythmic pairings, “It is better to … than to ….” is typical of one branch of wisdom writing.

This means there is not an easy, literal, way through this segment and begins to give a hint that Mark may be hiding other pieces of wisdom in plain sight under the guise of Apocalypticism.

When we begin to see Mark as sly wisdom from the “beginning” to a non-ending that pushes us back to cycle through for what seems like the umpteenth time, disciples and readers can both begin to reflect on how their very desire to “fish” gets in the way.

Wright127, puts it this way.

If those who have training and education do anything that excludes such [“little ones”], they are in deep trouble.
This probably gives us the right focus for the sayings about cutting off hands and feet, and plucking out eyes. Virtually all readers agree that these commands are not to be taken literally. They refer to precious parts of one’s personality – to aspects of one’s full humanness – which may from time to time cause one to stumble, which may, that is, bring about one’s ruin as a follower of Jesus. The immediate meaning seems to be that [followers of Jesus] had better watch out in case their desire for honour when Jesus becomes king (if only they knew!) prevents them in fact from being his disciples at all. Anything that get in the way must go.

Mark 9:46

where their worm never dies and the fire is never quenched. (Omitted)

omitted in most editions
worms get double billing here
as does voracious fire

an ouroborosian juggernaut
of rolling destruction
fuel and fire crushing life

having lost touch with worms
we place our fears on them
glad for their sacrifice

as long as we create worms
we’re in like Flynn
their curse our blessing

Again with the worms!

It does take awhile to begin to shift either or both past and future into the constraints of a present moment. As these moments flit by we are constantly having to redraw lessons learned and clarify visions from a further horizon.

At some point there comes a recognition that all the different ways we are able to postpone our come-uppance contain the moral injury to ourselves of conscience of harm caused and good left undone. These continue the conscious or unconscious stress of self-justification.

The worms are internal. To live is to do so in a parasitic setting. We are host to many parasites, some helpful and some not. We are also parasitic to many, sometimes helpfully so and sometimes not. These various partnerships, with various levels of harm and help, can get universalized into strange concepts such as original sin that explain away our inability to escape their gravitational field and leave us fated to never escape WormLand. The specific “where” destination becomes universalized as “everywhere” we travel.

In a similar manner they can get excused away, by our seeing “all theys as the hand or foot that causes us to stumble and we would cut them off. Aren’t we much more prone to prescribing this for others than for ourselves who have extenuating circumstances and will, of course, follow through on our promise of the moment to do better?” (Wrestling Year B: Connecting Sunday Readings with Lived Experience, Wesley White227).

In the end we are left with a question of where such worms fit into “good news”. For the moment consider that this section and, later, chapter 13, are examples of being trapped in wilderness temptation that scares us away from traveling further into the wilderness to enter a retreat of sustaining hope and ever-widening grace from which we then return—more fruitfully partnered with the worms and ourselves.

Mark 9:45

If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It would be better for you to enter the life lame, than to have both your feet and be thrown into Gehenna.

a thousand cuts
of self-abuse

blame a part
and then another

one by one
we fade away

once started
there is no end


Helpful teachings bear repeating because, like vision, they leak away under the onslaught of time or are covered over with a multitude of ordinary habits. Warnings, horrible enough to last much longer with us than moments of bliss, can lose in their impact with new experiences, learnings, or practiced desensitization.

Scripture details, like this verse, that run contrary to a larger picture such as Love G*D/Love Neighb*r need wrestling with. Rabbi Donniel Hartman, in Putting God Second: How to Save Religion from Itself, helps us.

What is the meaning of a biblical commandment that was never meant to be implemented by anyone but simply studied? The rabbis are creating a new commandment, a new challenge of God to humankind: “Learn it, and therein is your reward.” I, God will give you a sacred scripture, to guide you in a life in accordance with my will. That guidance, however, is not meant to free you from the moral responsibility to walk in my ways by doing what is just and right. I love the good because it is good, and it is not good because I love it. Sacred scripture, however, could lull you into forgetting this, as you find religious comfort in passively following the simple and explicit meaning of the text. The sacred scripture I have given to you is, by definition, filled with hurdles, which challenge you to remain forever vigilant as you work to discern which parts obligate you, and which are not worthy of me, nor of you.129

This eventually leads to a different relationship with scripture:

To save religion from itself is to understand that I have a choice—though a different choice, perhaps, than the one I thought I had. It is not a choice between the sanctification of all that is given (despite its corruption) and the rejection of all that is given (despite its profound value). The choice is rather to walk within my tradition, with my God; to hear the word and be inspired and instructed by it; and, at all times to judge it. Sacred scripture is meant to create a relationship between god and humanity, a relationship in which the human partner is inherently challenged simultaneously to learn from, and critique the divine.135

Mark 9:44

where their worm never dies and the fire is never quenched. (Omitted)

omitted in most editions
is the reality
of most people
under other’s thumbs

these worms don’t die
they have just enough
resources to breed
more slaves to Mammon

even though their fire
for an abundant life
never goes out
it is never tended

separated as well as omitted
they miss their intersection
with community
and continue apart

Some manuscripts have the words which we have retained here and in v.46, but the manuscripts are not among the best or the most reliable. The repetition of the saying in v. 46 seems to have found place there by attraction to the word hell at the end of v. 45. Both instances are retained here because some readers might be puzzled by a numerical omission, and by the fact of their being accustomed to English versions which retain the texts.   ~ Mann383

Neither of the excuses to keep a verse hold up. A numerical omission can easily be handled with a footnote. If a reader is accustomed to seeing a line suggests they have read the text more than once. If there is that much interest, it can be expected that they would appreciate more information than a literal reading can give and would eventually feel misled by a decision to maintain a line on the basis of “we’ve always done it that way”.

The line here may simply be a favorite that had to be worked in somewhere and found this place to emphasize the pain of an internal disruption of good news or, as Isaiah has it, “new heaven and new earth”.

Isaiah has given Jesus the language of suffering servant which is extended to death and resurrection. Now Isaiah’s very last word (66:24) has us rejoice in our loyalty to YHWH by casting a glance at those who have divided the community by not attending to ethical living and come to a bad end. We are to go out and look at the dead who have rebelled against G*D. We will see the dead filled with worms that do not die, even in an unquenchable fire. This is a final warning to stay true to tolerance toward outsiders and resolute in intolerance toward insiders who, in Isaiah’s words, “sanctify and purify themselves to go into the gardens, following the one in the center, eating the flesh of pigs vermin, and rodents” (66:17).

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.