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 afterward 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.” Mark 9:38-50
One of my favorite books growing up was The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton. I first read the book in middle school. It opened my eyes to the divided world around me. In the book there are two factions fighting each other.
You had the Socs and the Greasers. The Socs were rich & affluent where the Greasers were poor & struggled to survive. The Socs had new cars while the Greasers had to push start their broken down jalopies. The Socs were stars of the gridiron and classroom where the Greasers hung out fixed cars and hoped to pick up a trade. The Socs and Greasers seem to be polar opposites.
When I think about The Outsiders I mostly conjure up scenes from the 1983 movie. It stared a who’s who of young Hollywood at the time. With Tom Cruise, Matt Dillion, Rob Lowe, Ralph Macchio, Diane Lane, & Patrick Swayze. It is images of these actors that fill my mind as I think about my youth and the Socs & Greasers that define my life.
It reminds me of the world I grew up in. It reminds me of my Los Angeles that danced between affluence and poverty. I imagine myself alongside Ponyboy, Darry, & Soda Pop as they rumble with the Socs.
I ordered my life with my understanding of “us” & “them”. I organized everyone I meet, all my relationships conveniently fit within “insider” & “outsider.”
This was the sin of my youth; on the surface “The Outsiders” is a tale of “us” & “them” a snapshot of teenage angst. A contemporary moral treatment of the “golden rule.” There is similar caution to engage as we look at this passage from the Gospel of Mark.
Our Gospel reading from Mark is also a tale of “us” & “them” when we look at the surface. You have your Greasers and Socs. There are insiders & outsiders. More division. More exclusivity.
Jesus wants nothing to do with that insider/outsider stuff. Jesus is not trying to uphold any power structure. In fact, Jesus is trying to tear down the walls. Jesus seeks to bring about the destruction of any & all institution. Jesus is calling us to a radical relationship that will transform all participants.
It is here that I fear we lose sight of what it is Jesus is really calling us to. I know I am fine with a radical call to relationship. I get all excited about the thought of living my life in ways that challenge the status quo. I get all wide eyed as I imagine what this radical call will look like when God calls me to it. Then reality sets in and I start pointing fingers or making up excuses…it is a daunting task to answer that radical call on our lives, to that radical relationship that transforms. Transformation hurts and it is not easy. Well, have you ever tried to transform a dirty cat into a clean cat? It is sort of the same thing, but on a larger, systematic level…Jesus is all about transformation.
The funny thing about transformation is that it is almost always happens right before our eyes and we are usually unaware of it. Transformation is not by us as much as it happens to us. You see transformation is full of nuances…
We see this played out in the Gospel of Mark. In the beginning of the 9th chapter of Mark, we see Jesus transfigured on the high mount as Peter, James, & John watch. Jesus then rebukes an unclean spirit within a boy whose father hungers for relief of his “unbelief.”
Then in today’s gospel reading John, that very same John that witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus points out to Jesus. “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” I imagine Jesus turns to John and smiles, knowing that John missed the boat again.
Jesus offers, “Do not stop him; 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.” I think it is very important that we stop here and smell the roses. “Whoever is not against us is for us.” Notice Jesus does not say, “If you are not with us you are against us.” It is this nuance that calls us to the Kingdom of God. It is this nuance where transformation dwells.
When we pause too smell the beautiful aroma that emanates from verse 40 we capture the beauty of the complex nature of the relationship that we are all being called to. “Whoever is not against us is for us.” In this statement there is an allowance for the diversity of “being” in relationship. With this statement Jesus paints a dynamic structure in which “being” is not determined by the profane nature of humanity. Rather in this vision “being” is all about ones connection to the divine. Transformation takes place as we dwell with each other in that diversity of “being.”
More often than not we focus upon the criteria that we perceive makes us “insider” or “outsider”. “Christian” or “not Christian”. We spend our energies on making sure that we fit in to the boxes we hold as much as the world around us fit into those neat little boxes. We eagerly wait to check our box so we may move forward with the real work of faith. I am a sucker for a good survey.
We like to skip the dynamic structure Jesus offers in transformation for all and focus upon the “IF” statements of verses 42-50. We love the concert nature of “IF” this than “THAT”. We are more willing to maim each other and ourselves than to sit in the dynamic mystery of the divine. The problem is that it is not very fruitful to look at verses 42-50 without first understanding the power of verses 39-40. To focus on the “IF” statements of theses verses erodes the relationship Jesus is calling us to in “Whoever is not against us is for us.” To focus on the “IFs” denies the complexity of the relationship that we all are being called to and upholds the status quo. Remember Jesus has come to destroy the status quo. Jesus is trying to tear down the walls. Jesus seeks to bring about the destruction of any & all institution. Jesus is calling us to a radical relationship that will transform all participants. There is no “IF” in that at all.
This past week I attended a conference for Pride Week at the University of Louisville. The conference engaged the question, “What makes a man/woman a man/woman?” If was interesting. It challenged all sorts of preconceived notions I hold. It exposed another set of “Ifs” for me. As I questioned what constitutes masculinity and femininity for me I could not help to think about the notions I also hold for who I believe to be Christian or not.
I would contend the exclusive grace delivered by many a messenger in Gods name are most certainly not welcome in my version of heaven. I would have no room for the homophobic rants of the moral majority that nest over there off of Lexington Road. I could not share eternity with anyone that supports the exploitation of the poor and marginalized in the name of progress and the American dream. It is a good thing that I am not in charge of the gate. It is not our concern to even consider who is in or who is out. It is not our place to ask, “What makes a Christian?”
We are fine with the radical call to relationship. We get excited about the thought of living our lives in ways that challenge the status quo. We get wide eyed as we imagine what this radical call will look like when God calls us to it. Then reality sets in and we start pointing fingers or making up excuses…it is a daunting task to answer that radical call on our lives, to that radical relationship that transforms. Transformation hurts and it is not easy. Transformation happens right before our eyes and we are usually unaware of it. Transformation is not by us as much as it happens to us. Transformation is full of nuances…
In these divine nuances gone are the Greasers & Socs’. Gone are the “us” & “them”. Gone are the Jew & Greek. Gone are the “Male” & “Female”. Gone are the slave & free. Gone are the “Straight” & Gay”. Gone are the insider & outsider. Gone are all the boxes to check. What is left is a radical relationship that has transformed all participants. The walls of human division are gone. The institutions we cater to are destroyed. The only thing left standing is that which Jesus the Christ has pain stakingly crafted with wounded hands, a sacred heart, & the old tired wood of the cross.