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 afterwards 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."
It is just another day of the “It won’t cost you money, but it will cost you your life” Discipleship training-on-the-go (3 year mentor ship by Jesus included); however, we are now the third week into the same lesson because the students do not seem to pay attention or take notes. Class began three weeks ago, when Jesus asked the disciples who he is and Peter thought he had the right answer just to find out that he was missing important details – namely that human ideas are turned upside down when it comes to God – and that having in mind divine things rather than human things means to let go of our expectations of greatness and to relinquish the gospel that we want to hear for the Gospel that Jesus continues to preach through the entire way to the cross, the cross itself, and, finally, the empty tomb.
And then last week Jesus tried again. After hearing the disciples argue about who is the greatest he probably sighed, and then sat down with the disciples, telling them again what will happen to him, what it means to be a disciple, and that things aren’t as they think they are; instead, the first will be last, the last will be first, and the marginalized matter and the voiceless matter and there are no battle lines to be drawn but only battle lines to be erased.
And now, this week’s reading, another disciple speaks up. John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop them, because they were not of our age, gender, race, political party, religion, social status, economic status, neighborhood, church family, etc.” And Jesus said, ‘Do not stop them; 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.”
OK, I admit, that is not quite the Gospel reading. And yet it seems that this is sort of what seems to be playing out everywhere - across coffee shop tables, emails, online exchanges, and private as well as public conversations. And sooner or later we might find ourselves in discussions or even lost in thought about whatever is going on right now during these seemingly divided times, and sooner or later we might find ourselves even taking sides and believing ourselves to be right and believing that Jesus is with us in what we think and feel and do and the sides we take. Just like the disciples did way back when. We all want to believe Jesus is on our side and that we are doing the work of Jesus.
And yet – truth is – that Jesus has a real problem with sides and with boxes and with lines. Jesus has a problem with us picking sides. Jesus has a problem with us creating sides. Jesus has a problem with us choosing division, anger, and hostility over unity, love and peace. Jesus has a problem when we rush to judgement instead of taking a small breath and pause in which we remember who we in Christ. Jesus has a problem when our worldly concerns and our own pride exceed divine concerns.
Let’s go back once more to just before our reading from today. Jesus asked the disciples what they had been arguing about and they were evasive and didn’t want to tell him, because they had been arguing about who was the greatest of them. I imagine they argued about who had the most power and influence, who was the best disciple, who had sacrificed more, joined in earlier, healed more people, walked more miles, who was the best of the best. And when Jesus confronted them about their argument, they kind of knew that Jesus wouldn’t be a fan of their argument. And he sat them down and told them that whoever wants to be first must be last and must be the servant of all. And he also said whoever welcomes a child (or a marginalized person, an outcast, a voiceless and powerless one) welcomes him and whoever welcomes him welcomes God the Father. He was saying to stop arguing and start welcoming, to stop wasting time on-upping each other and competing for power and to spend more time practicing hospitality and love and peace
And on the heels of that, in today’s reading - John can’t bursts out proudly, “We saw someone casting out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”
I think there must have been a real awkward silence in the room for a moment and I wonder what Jesus might have thought that moment, maybe “Mamma Mia, here we go again.”
And so, Jesus tries once more. He tells John and the rest of the disciples that it isn’t up to them to claim a specific spot or actions. It isn’t up to them to check the work permit of this demon-fighter or his church membership. It is not up to them to draw lines in the sand where Jesus is busy erasing them and they are not to see enemies in every person who looks, acts, or thinks, differently from them – but instead, “Whoever is not against us is for us.”
And last time Jesus used a child to underscore his point of them needing to care for the least and not the greatest – and this week he goes even a step farther. “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 you refuse to see the good in others, you might as well not have eyes to see. If your hand only points at others instead of reaching out in love, you may as well not have a hand at all. If you don’t try to walk the walk of a disciple but rather tread on others rights, experiences, opinions, hopes, dreams - then you don’t really need feet to walk with.
Ouch…that must have hurt. Latest of all now, the disciples probably knew, at least for this time, that they had been blinded by their self-centered ways and that they had failed to walk the walk and to see the good in the other. See, John never mentioned that this other person could not cast out demons, but he says that the person was actually casting out demons. The entire complaint was that this one was doing something great without being part of the best of the best…
They knew they were hypocrites and often we know we are too. We know that many times it is easier to point out the supposed fault or faulty thinking in others instead of looking at ourselves – or, in Jesus’s words – it is easier to point out the speck in other people’s eyes than to see the log in our own eyes (i.e. Matthew 7:5). We know that and yet it still happens that we judge others and point real or proverbial fingers at them. Sometimes we still try to stand our ground rather than taking time to really listen and to maybe even find ground all can stand on together. So, yes maybe it would be better not to have that finger to point with…
Our scripture today ends with Jesus saying “for everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but salt that has lost its saltines, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another.”
Just as a matter of reference – in modern culture being “salty” often means that one is angry, agitated, or upset. But that is not what Jesus means. No, in true Jesus fashion, things get turned upside down even over 2000 years later. Rather than being angry or agitated, Jesus is telling his disciples and us to be peaceful, to allow the peace and love of God to season us and to allow the whole world to be seasoned by the peace and love that God has sprinkled onto us so that all lives may be flavored or touched by God. And when Jesus tells us to have salt in ourselves, he is telling us to focus on our lives in Christ, to focus on faithful living and to step away from quick judgement of each other but to respond in ways that show love and peace and kindness.
No matter what our differences are, we do not have to agree with other people, but we also do not have to put them down, make them feel bad, discard what they are saying, get into arguments, or think that we have all the right answers and they have none. Following the prince of peace means to live at peace with others – even in and despite our differences. And I think we agree – that all we say and do ought to be done in love – and we try to do so. And yet, the truth is that we often do judge others by how we treat them, what we think about them, what we say about them or do not say about them, or the sides we take. With contested issues, we often take sides and judge quickly - just as the disciples did when they refused to see the Spirit at work in the seemingly unauthorized and undocumented exorcist.
But the good news is and always has been that Jesus is for everyone and Jesus does not exclude, and Jesus does not hold things against us but patiently teaches us. And that is important.
Most importantly, there are times where we are the ones on the other side, when we are the ones who are not part of the in-group, and we are the ones who stick out for begin different. In Christ, however, we are loved and included and welcome. No matter who we are or where we are on life’s journey or what age, race, gender, affiliation, social status, etc. - we are welcome. But Jesus does not stop there. Jesus does not only welcome us but teaches us to be more welcoming. Jesus invites us to be transformed and to live lives of love and peace and unity and harmony – true Kingdom living - and in accepting his invitation, we are transforming the world into a place where justice and peace and love reign – where God reigns.
This truly is good news for everyone.
Allow God’s love to surround you and cover you from top to bottom and then – may God’s love pour out of you and into the world – and may the faith God has given you become the salt that seasons the earth with love – with wide open, accepting, slow to judge and slow to anger, kind, open hearted love.
God of unquenchable fire and overflowing grace – cast out the demons that oppress us, take away the things that make us stumble, lead us to true Kingdom living and season us with your peace – in the name of Christ, our Lord. Amen.
What Do You Think?
How do we prevent it from losing its saltiness?
How’s do we get ‘re-salted’, so to speak?
Share your thoughts in the comments!