The Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to Moses. Taking some of the spirit that was on Moses, the Lord bestowed it on the seventy elders; and as the spirit came to rest on them, they prophesied.
Now two men, one named Eldad and the other Medad, were not in the gathering but had been left in the camp. They too had been on the list, but had not gone out to the tent; yet the spirit came to rest on them also, and they prophesied in the camp. So, when a young man quickly told Moses, "Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp", Joshua, son of Nun, who from his youth had been Moses' aide, said, "Moses, my lord, stop them". But Moses answered him, "Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! Would that the Lord might bestow his spirit on them all!"(P) The word of the Lord.
The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul; the decree of the Lord is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple. (R)
The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the Lord are true, all of them just. (R)
Though your servant is careful of them, very diligent in keeping them, yet who can detect failings? Cleanse me from my unknown faults!
From wanton sin especially, restrain your servant; let it not rule over me. Then shall I be blameless and innocent of serious sin. (R)
Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries. Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten, your gold and silver have corroded, and that corrosion will be a testimony against you; it will devour your flesh like a fire. You have stored up treasure for the last days. Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure; you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter. You have condemned; you have murdered the righteous one; he offers you no resistance.(P) The word of the Lord.
At that time, John said to Jesus, "Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us." Jesus replied, "Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us. Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.
"Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life crippled than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna, where "their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched"."(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
To understand today's gospel text, we shall review where we left off last week. You may recall in last week's gospel, we read that when traveling from Galilee to Capernaum, Jesus apparently overheard an argument among his disciples. After arriving home, Jesus had asked them about the dispute but they kept silent. In fact, they were very embarrassed. Because, on the way, Jesus had been speaking to them about His impending suffering and death, whereas they were arguing about who was the greatest among them. In response, Jesus neither discouraged nor criticized the disciples for their ambition to be "great" but taught them that the greatest person is the one who puts the needs of others first and serves them wholeheartedly. And then, placing a child in their midst, He told them that welcoming such a child is equivalent to welcoming Him, Christ, and God the Father who sent Him.
It was at this time, as we read in today's text, that John said to Jesus that he and other disciples had seen someone using His name to cast out demons. We need not argue whether demons exist or not. One thing is certain that, in the time of Jesus, people believed in evil spirits and that they invaded people, causing both physical and mental illnesses. The most common way to exorcise the demons was to use the name of a still more powerful spirit and command the unclean spirit to come out of the possessed. This is the type of exorcism the disciples had witnessed. They had seen a man using the all-powerful name of Jesus to expel demons, and they tried to stop him from doing so because they said that he was not "following" them, i.e., that he was not a disciple.
But apparently, they had other hidden, ulterior motives to try to stop the exorcist. They regarded the man's work as a serious threat to their exclusive calling by Jesus. They probably thought that they had given up their jobs and even had left their families in order to follow Him; in turn, Jesus commissioned, only them, to preach and cast out demons. But, for whatever reason, this man was not following Jesus as they did, and yet he was driving out demons in Jesus' name. Evidently, Jesus Himself enabled the man to cast out demons and demonstrated His tremendous power. It made the disciples feel jealous, less special and important, and this led to the discussion of who was the greatest.
Knowing their motives, Jesus raised the issue and instructed them not to stop such people. He said that, first of all, those who perform miracles in His name would unlikely also speak evil of Him, i.e. those who evoke His name would be His authentic followers. Secondly, by citing a proverbial expression, "whoever is not against us is for us", Jesus made it very clear to His disciples that the man was neither against Him nor them; rather he was just doing the same work, promoting the same interest, and destroying the kingdom of Satan, Mark (9:40). And therefore, though he did not follow Him as they did, in as much as he was opposing the same common enemy and did nothing against Him, he ought to be regarded as one of them, as on their side.
And then speaking directly to them, Jesus further said, "Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, will surely not lose his reward", Mark (9:41). A cup of water is the smallest of gifts - a gift that almost anyone can give, yet, it is precious to a person who is really thirsty - in some instances, the gift of life itself. Thus, Jesus assured His disciples that all who would make even the smallest contribution to those who are engaged in His work will have their full reward. He did not specify the nature of the reward for those who help His disciples, but only assured them of its certainty.
Then Jesus warned against those who would cause the "little ones" to sin. Numerous verses throughout the Bible give us a special glimpse of God's love for his little ones. And the "little ones" has various meanings - the children, the poor, the vulnerable, the strangers, the sick, God's people and so on, Proverbs (22:6); Psalm (127:3-5); Luke (18:16); Mark (9:35-42); Matthew (18:1-5, 25:31-46); Ephesians (6:4). However, in most places of the New Testament, Jesus' teachings referring to "little ones" or "children" imply His "disciples" and "believers." Jesus' disciples were, of course, also called His "servants".
Now, let us go back to today's gospel verse. Jesus said, "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea", Mark (9:42).
There are four things to take note of in this verse:
Jesus uses hyperbolic language to describe the fate of those who cause the little ones to sin. Hyperbole means unrealistic exaggeration or intentional overstatement. Examples for hyperbole in modern speech include statements like "I have been waiting for ages", "I have told you to clean your room a million times", and so on. Hyperbole, like other figures of speech, is not meant to be taken literally.
Now, Jesus used such a language to describe the horrible end that awaits those who lead His little ones into sin. Jesus said that it would be better for the one who leads the other into sin to be drowned at the bottom of the sea than to commit the sin of leading a believer away from Christ. Drowning of malefactors by tying a stone, or any heavy thing about their necks and casting them into the sea was, in fact, a punishment and a means of execution both in Rome and in Palestine at the time of Jesus.
Lastly, Jesus made it abundantly clear to His followers how He feels about anyone attacking the children of God. Here, He employed another hyperbolic and figurative language to emphasize the importance of resisting sin and to paint a picture of hell. He said, "If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire", Mark (9:43). And then, He repeated the same refrain, replacing the example of the hand with the foot and the eye.
What is Gehenna? Gehenna is spoken of twelve times in the New Testament with Jesus using it eleven times. Gehenna is the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew ge-hinnom, meaning "Valley of Hinnom." It is a small but deep and narrow valley outside of Jerusalem. It was the valley in which from the days of Ahaz, the King of Judah, Israelites used to sacrifice their children by fire to appease the Canaanite god Molech, 2 Chronicles (28:3, 33:6); 2 Kings (23:10). In later years, the valley was declared unclean, and was subsequently used for burning corpses of criminals, dead animals and garbage from the city of Jerusalem. And worms and maggots fed on the refuse, parts of it were continually burned and there the fire, smoke, and stench never ceased.
Using Gehenna as illustration of hell, Jesus told the disciples to chop off the offending parts of their body so that they can still enter heaven as opposed to going into hell with their body intact, where "their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched". Jesus was not saying that the disciples must literally mutilate their bodies as a punishment for their sin, for they could cut off a hand, a foot or pluck out an eye and can still commit sin. Rather, He was warning them of the seriousness of sin and the reality and nature of hell. He wanted them to go to the root of the problem and remove it so they did not cause any sin. As far as the disciples were concerned, they had to confront the sins of pride and jealousy.
What is the message for us today?
Therefore, sin is a serious matter. It is more than an act. It is an insult to God; it is an affront to God's holiness; it demeans God's authority. All sin is sin against God and therefore infinitely serious. And sin brings about damnation, that is, eternal separation from God and never-ending torment in hell, from which there is no escape. And so, if the hell is real and it is terrible and if we don't want to go there, then we should be willing to take every effort to avoid sinning. We should be willing to remove any person or thing, e.g. a place, a relationship, a job, that tempts us to stray away from God's will; that entraps us in sin; and that deprives us of a peaceful, healthy, joyful, happy life here on earth and eternal life in heaven.(P) Amen.
God Bless You!