Do not be too quick to judge the man who no longer believes in God: for it is perhaps your coldness and avarice and mediocrity and materialism and selfishness that have chilled his faith. — Thomas Merton
So, they asked him whether they should stop the one who was not one of them but was doing good in Jesus’ name and his answer was . . .what? As it unfolds, Jesus’ answer says basically: “Instead of casting away those who are outside of our circle, maybe you need to recognize that the boundaries of that circle runs straight through your own lives.”
Let me unpack that a bit. We hear horror stories now and again on how some countries in the Middle East mete out justice. For example: you do wrong; they take your hand. Doing that leaves you crippled and stigmatized but also insures that you will not repeat the action.
Think about it for a moment: we “do” with our hands. We use our feet to “be on the way somewhere.” We take in the information that becomes thoughts and reactions with our eye.
If your eye sees misery then your heart, which is connected to your eye, moves you to mercy, your feet carry you to the side of those who suffer, and your hands “drive out the demons” of misery by an act of humble servanthood, then eyes, feet, and hands have served your Lord Jesus well in extending his ministry of providence for the world.
If your eyes see misery of your neighbors difficult life and your heart moves you to disgust, your feet move you to your computer, and your hands type a FaceBook post filled with vile gossip on the neighbor, it would certainly be better if eye had not seen, foot had not propelled you, and hand had not typed.
If your eyes see the captives of demons freed in the name of Christ then your heart ought to rejoice, your feet ought to propel you to those likewise suffering, and your hands ought put Hades to flight.
If your eyes see the captives of demons freed in the name of Christ but your heart instead is jealous or officiously bureaucratic about the exorcist, your feet propel you to Jesus or the church, and your hands pull them aside to say: “We stopped that rescue because he was not one of us and did not look like us,” then neither hand or foot or eye served you well and neither was the kingdom of God preached or advanced.
At this point, you probably realize that I am of the opinion that Jesus did not ask his followers to mutilate themselves. The fact that only a few nuts have done so after reading these verses along with the fact that the church never counseled this type of self mutilation suggests to me that Jesus might not have meant this literally. The real invitation here is to find what drives us to sin and then exclude it from our lives because we are faithful followers of Jesus. To do less would offend both Jesus and harm the neighbor.
The matter of the millstone is a nod at the harm to the neighbor, especially the vulnerable neighbor. Your lack of faithfulness to Jesus must not lead others to similar lapse of faith. Faith cannot ever have fine print or footnotes. Faithfulness either is done with all and every facet of our life or it is faulty to the core. It is either willing to let everything be led and determined by Jesus Christ — in other words: Let him be Lord and God — or it is wayward. To display such lacking faith is to mislead the little ones.
What is the glass of water about? Note who gives whom the water and why. In a parched land, giving another a glass of water is a necessary act of hospitality and kindness. In this verse, it is extended by unknown hosts who extend it to the disciples. In other words, these are those who would lighten the disciples’ burden while on mission. The unknown exorcist, by his actions of driving out the reign of darkness, was advancing the mission of Jesus and therefore of the disciples.
In the Gospel of Mark, things are generally urgent. The work of preaching the Kingdom must be now immediately if not sooner and anyone who would advance the work is an ally to Jesus and anyone who would delay it is a hindrance.
In a way, this passage from Mark is like the second verse of ‘Just as I am:’ “Just as I am and waiting not, to rid my soul of one dark blot.” In the case at hand with the disciples, we need to remember that they have just been arguing about leadership in the Jesus movement. Their complaint about the unknown exorcist and Jesus’ admonitions ought to be seen against that backdrop. They are to test the sprits beginning with their own. Only those impulses that aid the mission ought to be tolerated within them and anything that happens to advance the mission, anything done in the name of Jesus, ought to he be the cause of thanksgiving because these are signs that the kingdom of God is advancing and that the house of the “strong man” — the evil one — is being plundered.
Are we as singleminded as Jesus asks here?