September 30, 2012 @ 4:22 pm
The Gospel text for today follows directly on the heels of our Gospel from a week ago. It is a continuation of the same conversation between Jesus and his disciples. If you recall last week’s Gospel, Jesus set some time aside with his disciples because he was teaching them some very important and foundational things that had to do with the Kingdom of Heaven, namely that the Kingdom would be realized and initiated and founded upon the sacrifice that he had come to offer through his death on the cross. Jesus instructed his disciples that he, the Son of Man, would be given into the hands of people who would kill him. But after he had been killed he would be raised.
Now, for Jesus, this event was everything. This set the stage for everything he had come to accomplish. This was the sum and substance of his Ministry. It was the entire purpose for why he had come. Everything that he had to teach them was built off of this one single event. Everything he had in mind for them to do after he was gone was built around the cross. It was the foundation, the lynchpin. With it everything makes sense and holds together, without it the whole thing falls apart.
So when Jesus instructed his disciples about his upcoming crucifixion, he hoped the disciples would understand, that they would see the pattern he established. The Kingdom of heaven is not a kingdom of glory for this world, it’s a kingdom of forgiveness and life for the next. It’s not a foundation of earthly power, it is for power over Sin and Satan and hell. It is not a means to personal glory. It is a means to personal sacrifice in the interest of mercy and love and service and forgiveness all for the sake of salvation Jesus would win on the cross. This is what Jesus hoped the disciples would take away from his teaching.
In fact they missed that message completely. Because the very first thing they did was begin and argument among themselves as to which one of them would have the greatest personal fame and glory when Jesus finally ascended to his throne in his kingdom. They couldn’t have been more off base. If the target was to the north, they were aiming south. The missed by a mile. Jesus told them so. They still did not understand.
In our Gospel for today, Jesus just got done telling them that whoever wanted to be first must be last of all and servant of all and that they should consider themselves to be servants even of the lowest of the low. But then one of the disciples, and Mark tells us who it was, it was John, he comes to Jesus bragging that he shut somebody down who had been casting out demons in the name of Jesus. Apparently there had been some unapproved or unsanctioned demon casting and John thought it was necessary to put a stop to it.
Now, it’s apparent from the text that Jesus was not so much in favor of John’s actions. But if you think about it, maybe John had a point. Maybe there was a good reason that he did what he did. I mean, you can’t just have people going around casting out demons. Didn’t this guy realize there were procedures to follow? There was a Casting Out Demons Committee that was a subcommittee of the Powers of Darkness Board that sat on the Discipleship Council. Not one of them had been consulted. He should have submitted his request in writing and then at the next subcommittee meeting they could have all sat down, discussed it, decided who had the authority for the action, planned the menu for the pot luck dinner afterward and made sure everything happened according to the constitution! But this? Just taking unapproved action? What did he think he was doing? You can’t just go around willy nilly casting out demons. Who did this guy think he was?
Turns out John and the disciples were a lot like us. We get so bent out of shape when it comes to the policies and procedures that we put together. We get so worked up over who has the right to do something or not to do something that we lose sight of the mission. We lose sight of the Gospel. We lose sight of the fact that this whole thing, this whole entire operation that we call Church is all about God’s mechanism for forgiving the sinner and healing the wounded and restoring the broken.
Luther famously said, “The Cross Alone is our Theology.” That fits right in with what the Apostle Paul said. We have been studying 1 Corinthians in Bible class – if you haven’t been coming you should– he said “We have resolved to know nothing among you except Christ and him crucified.” The cross, salvation, the sacrifice of Jesus for sinners to set them free from Satan, this message at all costs, throw it all to the wind let it all come to nothing if only we can share that message with but one sinner, if only we can set one captive free, if only we can heal one more wounded, if only we could bring one more to repentance and faith. The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. We come together to seek and save what? Ourselves? Our agendas? Our carved out section of St Paul Chuckery power? That’s our Old Adam talking.
You see Jesus calls us together into His body. We are one. One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism. The Body of Christ. The New Testament calls it koinonia, fellowship, or if you are familiar with our Missouri Synod emphasis and focus of “Witness, Mercy, Life Together”, it is the Life Together. We are all bound to one another.
In response to John’s rebuke of a fellow disciple, Jesus offers this.
“If anyone causes the least of these to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were tied around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”
We are called to be responsible for each other. Caring for each other. Focused on the benefit and well being of one another. John had been concerned for the outward structure. John did what the world does, what our Old Adam does – who’s in, who’s out. Who’s included, excluded. Jesus said, “No, don’t divide. Don’t drive a wedge. And don’t cause each other to sin. Because if you do, if by your concern for yourself, for your power, your prestige you destroy another person, you will be judged and it will be better for you to have been drown with a millstone around your neck. So don’t do it. Jesus underscores this point.
“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter heaven with one hand than to go into hell with two. If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It’s better to enter heaven with one foot than to enter hell with two. If you eye causes you to sin, gauge it out and throw it away. It’s better to enter heaven with one eye than to keep the eye and enter into hell with two.”
This of course is what we call hyperbole. Over stating your case to make a point. We use this device in our everyday speaking all the time. “I’m so hungry I could eat or horse.” “Traffic was so bad, the entire state of Ohio must have been out on the road.” Things like that. But the point is there. We make our own issues, our own thoughts our own ideas, our own agendas so important that we allow them to lead us to sin. And then in our sin we lead other to sin.
We do it in our life together. We sin against each other and in the hurt and the offense that we cause them, we lead them to sin. We injure them so that they are filled, not with the joy of the Gospel but they are filled with grief and bitterness. And in the wounds that we have caused Satan comes to rub salt in them. He comes to cause them to sting and he keeps those wounds open and bleeding so that they continue to cause pain. So that he can stir up thoughts of bitterness and revenge.
Don’t you see how your actions can lead others to sin? Jesus says don’t do it. If your sin, if you are so tempted to sins of pride or selfishness or anger, if you have an agenda that you just can’t let go, Jesus says cut it off and throw it away. If you are holding on to some bitterness, Jesus says cut it off and throw it away. You are better off to enter heaven without it than to enter hell with it. It just is not worth it. Let it go.
You see, Jesus ties us together as Christians. He knits us together into one communion and into one community. WE are organized together around the Gospel. Around Jesus. Around forgiveness and mercy and love and honor and respect and self-sacrifice and service.
The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give himself up as a ransom for many. This is what Jesus has done for you. And this is what Jesus call you to do for others.
In the name of Jesus.