Lectio Divina: Mark 9:41-50
1) Opening prayer
keep before us the wisdom and love
You have revealed in Your Son.
Help us to be like Him
in word and deed,
for He lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2) Gospel Reading - Mark 9:41-50
Jesus said to his disciples: "Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward. "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut if off. It is better for you to enter into life crippled than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Better for you to enter into the Kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. "Everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if salt becomes insipid, with what will you restore its flavor? Keep salt in yourselves and you will have peace with one another."
• Today’s Gospel narrates some advice from Jesus on the relationship of adults with the little ones and the excluded. At that time, many persons were excluded and marginalized. They could not participate. Many of them would lose their faith. The text on which we are going to meditate now contains strange affirmations which, if taken literally, cause perplexity in the reader.
• Mark 9:41: A glass of water will be rewarded. A phrase from Jesus is inserted here: If anyone gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, then in truth I tell you, he will most certainly not lose his reward. Two thoughts: 1) “Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink”. Jesus is going to Jerusalem to give His life. A gesture of great donation! But He does not forget the small gestures in life each day: a cup of water, an act of acceptance or kindness, to give alms, so many gestures. Anyone who rejects and despises the brick will never be able to construct a house! 2) “…because you belong to Christ”: Jesus identifies Himself with us who want to belong to Him. This means that for Him we have great value. The word here is because, not if. To give a cup of water because the receiver belongs to Christ also acknowledges Christ! In this act of kindness the giver is also acknowledging Christ by his action.
• Mark 9:42: Who is a cause of scandal for these little ones. Scandal, literally, it is a stone along the road, a stone in the shoe. It is what leads a person away from the right path. To scandalize the little ones is to be the cause of why the little ones go away from the right path and lose their faith in God. Anyone who does this receives the following sentence: “It would have been better to be thrown into the sea with a great millstone hung round his neck!” Jesus identifies Himself with the little ones (Mt 23:40-45). Today, in the whole world, many little ones, many poor people, are leaving the traditional churches. Every year, in Latin America, approximately three million people leave to other churches. They cannot believe what we profess! Why does this happen? Is this an action taken in full knowledge and as a definitive statement? Is it based on a lack of understanding or teaching? Up to what point are we to be blamed for this? Do we also merit having a millstone round our neck?
• Mark 9:43-48: To cut off your hand and your foot and to tear out your eye. Jesus orders the person to cut off the hand, the foot, to tear out the eye, in the case in which they are cause of scandal. And He says: “It is better to enter into life or into the Kingdom with one foot (hand, eye) than to be thrown into hell with two feet, (hands, eyes)”. These phrases are not to be taken literally, but rather, that there is nothing so important that it should be retained if it were to keep a person from entering the Kingdom. They mean that the person has to be rooted in his/her choice of God and of the Gospel. It might seem obvious that a person can’t be more attached to something than their own hand or foot, but many are – to their money, their car or house, their social position, or even more trivial things. It is better to cut off the things that are not in alignment with the priorities of the Kingdom.
The expression “hell”, where their worm will never die nor their fire be put out”, is an image to indicate the situation of a person who remains without God. “Gehenna” was the name of a valley near Jerusalem. Jeremiah condemns it (II Kings 23:10; Jer 7:31; 32:35 et al.; see *Moloch) as a place where children were cult sacrificed, which is the predominant rabbinical thought. Rabbi David Kimhi’s commentary (ca. 1200 AD) stated it was where the trash of the city was thrown and where a fire was always burning to burn the trash. This place, terrible either way, full of stench, was used by the people to symbolize the situation of the person who did not participate in the Kingdom of God.
• Mark 9:49-50: Salt and Peace. These two verses help us to understand the severe words on scandal. Jesus says: “Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another!” The community, in which the members live in peace with one another, is like a bit of salt which gives flavor to all the meal. To live in peace and fraternally in the community is the salt that gives flavor to the life of the people of the community. It is a sign of the Kingdom, a revelation of the Good News of God. Are we salt? The salt which does not give flavor is good for nothing! Has our salt become insipid?
• Jesus accepts and defends the life of the little ones. Several times, Jesus insists that little ones should be accepted. “Anyone who welcomes a little child in my name welcomes me” (Mk 9:37). Anyone who gives a cup of water to one of these little ones will not lose his reward (Mt 10:42). He asks not to despise little ones (Mt 18:10). And at the final judgment the just will be received because they would have given something to eat “to one of these little ones” (Mt 25:40). If Jesus insists so much on acceptance of the little ones, it is because there are many simple people considered less, who are not accepted! In fact, women and children were not taken into account (Mt 14 21; 15:38), they were despised (Mt 18:10) and reduced to silence (Mt 21:15-16). Even the Apostles prevented the children from getting close to Jesus (Mt 19:13-14). In the name of the Law of God, misinterpreted by the religious authority of the time, many good people were excluded. Instead of welcoming the excluded, the law was used to legitimize the exclusion. In the Gospels, the expression “little ones” (in Greek it is said elachisto, mikroi or nepioi), sometimes indicates “the children”, and other times it indicates the sections excluded by society. It is not easy to discern. Sometimes the “little ones” in the Gospel means “the children”. This because the children belonged to the category of the “little ones”, of the excluded. Besides, it is not always easy to discern between what comes from the time of Jesus and that which comes from the time of the communities for which the Gospels were written. Even if things were like this, what is clear is the context of exclusion which reigned at the time and which the first communities kept from Jesus: He places Himself on the side of the little ones and the excluded, and takes up their defense.
4) Personal questions
• Today in our society and in our community, who are the little ones and the excluded? How are they accepted on our part?
• “Anyone who welcomes a little child in my name welcomes me” (Mk 9:37). How does this apply to welcoming a child versus abortion in our society?
• We spoke of “Anyone who is not against us is for us” yesterday, and it’s relation to other Christian doctrinal interpretations. We talk about ecumenism. Today we talked about so many people leaving to other churches. These are various views on the same thing. How do they fit together?
• “A millstone round the neck”. Does my behavior deserve a millstone or a cord round the neck? What does the behavior of our community deserve?
5) Concluding Prayer
The Lord forgives all your offenses,
cures all your diseases,
He redeems your life from the abyss,
crowns you with faithful love and tenderness. (Ps 103:3-4)