What Matters – Reflection for Trinity 17 26 September 2021

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-end

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It is sometimes said that desperate times call for desperate measures. The idea has been variously attributed to Shakespeare, Nelson and, going way back in history, to the Greek Physician Hippocrates.

In our own times, as we approach the COP26 climate summit in November, many leading environmentalists and activists are warning us that the scale of the climate emergency requires emergency measures.

Jesus seems to be suggesting something similar in today’s Gospel reading. If your hand, foot or eye causes you to stumble, he says, then remove them. The consequences of doing nothing, he suggests, are too grave. The language is bold and urgent. It’s as if Jesus is saying ‘Wake up. Don’t sleep-walk towards disaster. Change course.’ In doing so, Jesus is challenging his followers to know where their priorities lie.

At the start of today’s Gospel reading, the disciples are complaining about an adherent of Jesus who is not part of their group, but who is casting out demons in Jesus name. It’s an argument about who’s in and who’s out, who is a legitimate follower of Jesus and who isn’t.

Jesus wants them to ‘get a grip’. Instead of obsessing over who is really part of Jesus’ gang, they need to look inwards and outwards. What needs to change in their own lives? How can they make a positive difference in the world? These are the things that matter.

As church communities we can spend a lot of time focusing on how we run our affairs and who does what. It can all seem very important, and sometimes it is. But today’s Gospel challenges us to put such activity in its proper perspective and to look inwards and outwards: inwards to see where God wants to be at work in us; outwards to see where God wants us to make a difference in the world.

Canon Dr Andrew Braddock

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