NRSV Matthew 12:29 Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property, without first tying up the strong man? Then indeed the house can be plundered. 30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
NRSV Mark 9:38 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.” 39 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. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us.
NRSV Luke 9:49 John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” 50 But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you.”
After reading several versions of these passages and looking at commentaries written by people at various levels of prestige from St. Augustine to names I didn’t recognize this is my #1 question. Is Jesus speaking more about people outside the disciple’s experience of faith rather than those in opposition to Jesus? Is Jesus challenging us to check the balance of our focus on the relationship between doctrine and comfort?
Apparently doctrine is an age-old conflict. What if Jesus is speaking of people who operate outside the body of faith as we know it but don’t actually oppose Him? What if Jesus’ emphasis is about “tying up the strong man” with dependence on doctrine, rather than Himself. Can that be what makes the “strong man’s house” vulnerable to plunder? What if these three passages reveal the very words of Jesus that lead us from doctrine to comfort?
That makes sense to me when I read the Mark and Luke versions of this passage. I feel like I can read between the lines of John’s words in Mark. Sure the man is “casting out demons in your name” but how can what he’s doing possibly be OK “because he was not following us”? John’s concern for the corporate integrity of their ministry was real. Jesus matches his assurance to John with the same group-inclusive pronoun, “us.” “Whoever is not against US is for US.”
John’s invested his own life and identity in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus knew the question of integrity was still very personal to John. John’s own conflict was finding the comfort between doing things the way they “should” be done [doctrine?] and his commitment to the ministry of Jesus. Jesus words from Luke challenged John to move from doctrine to the exclusive assurance of comfort of a personal pronoun, “you.’ “Whoever is not against YOU is for YOU.”
√ Re·new·al: the replacing or repair of something that is worn out, run-down, or broken
Cliff notes characters from Mark 2
• A paralyzed man, Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth, the teachers of the law who were Pharisees and John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees who were fasting.
• Focus: Mark 2:25 He [Jesus] answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” 27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
Mark 2 is a rich resource of who, what, where, when and why Jesus brings about the renewal of the worn out, run-down, or broken. All that information was the key to why I distilled my focus to the last four verses of the chapter where Jesus reveals his own Sabbath identity“…The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
Jesus is Lord of the seven-day-a-week rhythm we call Sabbath. His Sabbath identity is the encouragement of all the “renewals” I saw in this chapter. Jesus’s Sabbath identity was made for us too. His Sabbath identity is the bridge of encouragement that connects our human need to our renewal.
You might wonder why a chapter about baptism and the confession of sin for repentance would possibly include “Jesus the Messiah,” the perfect, sinless Son of God. I wondered too, so I read this chapter and made my notes with that in mind. I think God purposely included the baptism of his perfect, sinless Son in his plan of confession so we might better understand what the Baptist meant when he said “I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Our confession is more than a one-time event.
That makes Jesus’s confessions that day important to think about because he was perfect. These are only my imagined confessions Jesus might have made based on Marks words but maybe they’re still examples to follow that can make our confession an ongoing connection to that perfect Spirit.
• The Confession of Baptism
9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.
• The Confession of Spirit
10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
• The Confession of Belief
14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
• The Confession of Followers
17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.
• The Confession of Authority
27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.”
• The Confession of Sacrifice
44 “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.
-Mark 12:30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.
-Matthew 22:37 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
-Luke 10:27…Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself.
These three New Testament Scripture passages all quote Jesus speaking words that would have been familiar to his Jewish hearers, the Shema. They’re words still used repeatedly in Jewish prayers. They all include loving God with your heart and soul which seems obvious. The inclusion of mind and/or strength is the variant that got my attention. I understand the access to mind and strength more than I do heart and soul.
This is the age-old debate: Is it strength of commitment or the exercise of the mind that fills the heart and soul? How do we figure out what’s required of us to prove our sincerity? It would seem even these Bible authors had their own opinion on that. Mind and strength? Mind? Strength? Do I have to choose one or the other?
Hillel was a famous religious leader in Jewish history. He was asked to recite the whole law for a dedicated student who would prove his sincerity and his physical strength by listening to it all while standing on one leg. That’s a funny mind picture isn’t it? Hillel’s short answer was probably pretty welcome to him; “What thou hatest for thyself, do not to thy neighbour. This is the whole law, the rest is commentary. Go and learn.”
This is the whole law…“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul…” Now go find a comfortable spot, read, study and think. God will begin to write his whole commentary in your mind and on your heart to strengthen your soul
Bartimaeus is sitting by the side of the road begging so an approaching crowd is good but when he hears Jesus is with them he begins to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
*49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”
*51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him
*52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.
I forgot to add my tag to The Red Thread last Sunday but it would have been something to do with eyesight because I saw a connection between the vision of James and John and blind Bartimaeus. There’s more than one kind of blindness.
It was interesting that Jesus asked the exact same question in both of these stories; “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus really wanted them to focus on their answer to his question. James and John’s vision was of a shared glory. Bartimaeus only knew his vision was dependent on Jesus. Both were responses of faith but are they either/or options?
Instead of making it an either/or option I wonder if the point of these two stories following one another is to show they don’t compete with but complete one another? It’s a new vision of what a whole [holy] person looks like, complete with total dependence AND shared glory.
2 Thessalonians 2:13 But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
John 15: 5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
My answer to Jesus’s question? I want the complete package, please.
*36 “What do you want me to do for you?” he
*42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Here’s the cliff notes: The disciples have left their lives behind to follow Jesus. They believe he is Messiah. They’ve found security in Jesus. He’s been the assurance of their sacrifice but now the question about who can be saved, and how, has rattled them. They’ve spent this time with Jesus waiting for that revelation, learning and seeing firsthand the powers Jesus has…even over death.
Now Jesus is telling the disciples what the chief priests and teachers of the law have planned for him in Jerusalem. It’s not good but it’s also not as real to them as what they’ve been taught their whole lives that Messiah would be revealed as a conquering king. Jesus asks James and John – “What do you want me to do for you?” It’s clear from their reply they’re seeing “glory” in their future, rather than destruction. They don’t see how the final demonstration of Messiah’s power could happen any other way.
It reminded me how easy it is in life to assume we know how Jesus will reveal his power and miss the reality of seeing it happen in our lives.
18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” 21… “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
Isn’t it odd for Jesus to ask “Why do you call me good?” The reality is even the perfect son of God recognized how flawed the human perception of goodness is…even when it comes to approaching God. We can’t help but evaluate God’s promised goodness by His performance. That’s tricky to navigate in the history of the Bible and in our own lives. Jesus asked the rich young man to do more than make the choice between possessions and poverty. The “one thing” he lacked was the ability to see his treasure was the reality of a future with God beyond his own goodness.
• Alpha – Beginning
31…“The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.”
42 – 48 Dire Warnings & Results
V48 “‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ [Isaiah 66:24]
• Omega – Finale
49 Everyone will be salted with fire. 50 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other. ”
Alpha (Α) and omega (Ω) are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, and a title of Christ and God in the Book of Revelation.
This red thread begins with Jesus telling his disciples once again of what’s in store for him…coming death and resurrection. V31 sounds like an ending, but Christ is the beginning of our journey to God and that’s how the Alpha and Omega came to my mind. ..but there’s that in-between.
We live today with the same life circumstances Jesus was cautioning them about in Mark 9. “Our” life in-between Alpha and Omega is packed with arguing, ambition, acceptance, tolerance and the reality of how critical our choices are. They’re so critical in fact some versions quote Isaiah three times in verses 44 and 46 and 48.
That in-between life is not just filler. It’s time the Alpha has given us for salt and fire to purify our choices and teach us how to be “salt among [ourselves], and be at peace with each other” while we look forward to the last word, the Omega, an eternity lived in the presence of God the Son, God the Spirit and God the Father.
Mark 9 The Red Thread
16 “What are you arguing with them about?
19 “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”
21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”…“You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”
29… This kind can come out only by prayer.”
Here are the characters of the story:
• Religious leaders hassling the disciples for being ineffective
• The frustrated disciples because they’re ineffective
• A devoted father unable to get help for his son
• A frustrated Jesus
It seems studying a red letter version of Mark requires going through the book more slowly to experience how the little parts tucked in along with the big deal parts are tied together with that same red thread of Jesus’s words.
Chapter 9 seems to be about recognizing the challenge that faith is greater than what you currently comprehend. That certainly happened to Peter, James and John on the mountain with Jesus. That challenge continues with the words of the devoted father, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” and even the disciples own frustrated words “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
Faith wasn’t the issue. It was an issue of maintenance that frustrated Jesus enough to confront them with this truth. It’s prayer that maintains the connection of faith to the power of God…”only by prayer.”