Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
The Gospel you have just heard comes around every three years. Each time I preach about this Gospel I feel it is important to explain the literary device of hyperbole, especially for the protection of those who tend to take things in the Scriptures literally.
Put a millstone around your neck and be thrown into the sea? Tear out your eye if it causes you to sin? Cut off your hand? How about: I have a million things to do today. I am so hungry I could eat a horse. And my personal favourite: I have told you a million times, “Never exaggerate.” What do these statements have in common? They are exaggerations, figures of speech. This form of exaggeration is called hyperbole, from the Greek - hyper, meaning beyond or excess, and bol,
meaning to throw. Literally, hyperbole means to throw beyond. Used in speech it means an obviously extravagant statement, not intended to be taken literally.
So... fellow sinner, before you put a millstone around your neck and drown yourself, or maim yourself, let me make it perfectly clear that the last part of the Gospel was not meant to be taken literally. When Jesus talks about the millstone and cutting off your foot or hand and tearing out your eye because of sin, he is using... hyperbole...to make a point. The point is not to maim ourselves; it is to deal with the things in our lives that cause us to sin... so that we can live a holy life. Aren’t you glad we got that cleared up?
Today’s readings focus on the freedom of the Holy Spirit to blow when and where it will. In the reading from the Book of Numbers Eldad and Medad were not part of the inner circle when the Holy Spirit graced the leaders of Israel, but they received the same gift of prophecy. (The gift of speaking with divine inspiration) When asked to stop them, Moses said he wished everyone were a prophet. In Mark’s Gospel, John wanted Jesus to stop the guy down the road from exercising his healing ministry because he was not part of the inner circle of apostles. Jesus rejected that idea and said don’t stop anyone who is doing good in my name. We call this the exclusivism of the Apostolate, which essentially says “that can’t be good because I am not the one doing it.” We still see this exclusivism happening today. In last week’s Gospel message, when the disciples were arguing among themselves about who was the most important, Jesus made it clear that they were to treat everyone as more important than themselves and that they must serve all other people. Two weeks ago the Letter of James reminded us to “Love your neighbour as yourself.” It’s not good enough to say “Good Luck.” to people in need. If we don’t do good things for others, making sure they have food and clothing, then our faith isn’t real
These readings teach us about God’s concern, about God’s immense and unconditional love, for those who have no hope apart from miraculous intervention. These readings also show us clearly that Jesus came to save everyone, regardless of status or position. We baptized Christians are called to continue the ministry of Jesus. We do it in the name of Jesus Christ. We do it not for ourselves, but so that anyone who is in need can feel and hear about God’s love for them. Nowhere in the Scriptures is anyone who comes to Jesus rejected. We must be ever mindful of this. Are we jealous of others who prophesy even though they are not in our tent? Do we try to obstruct others who do God’s work simply because they are not in our tent? Do we serve everyone? Do we welcome everyone?
Perhaps today we can take a look at ourselves as we appear to others. Are we uneasy when other people speak about God? Are we willing to speak about God and God’s action and God’s grace in our lives? Are we able to be self-critical and acknowledge our own mistakes and failures? Are we able to rejoice when we see others doing the work of God with joy — even when those people may not be part of our Church? God wants to pour out His Spirit on all of us. When we invite Jesus into our lives and open our hearts to his Holy Spirit, how powerfully we are blessed.