This morning’s Gospel text presents us with a kind of musical piece in three movements or a play in three acts. Or maybe think of an appetizer, the main course, and some seasoning. That’s it! Appetizer, main course, and seasoning. They are three different sayings that just happen to be together in Mark, but not in Matthew or Luke.
First the appetizer. “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” You ever notice how we are always trying to organize God? How God is comfortable with chaos and we aren’t? We have to have everything all nice, neat, and tidy, packed away in boxes with labels on them, and God just seems to go and dump things out on the floor and messes around with everything. Yes, God is a God of order, and He brings creative order out of the chaos. But God also seems to have a penchant of improv theater when we would prefer a tight script with stage directions.
The disciples seems to have Jesus quite figured out and away into a safe little box. And they seem to have their own job security worked out as well. They are the chosen few, the elect ones, the inner circle of the Twelve who have been given the authority to preach the kingdom and cast out demons. Sure, they had a minor setback with a stubborn demon that wouldn’t yield to them, but still, they were the Twelve, Jesus’ hand-picked cabinet in a very exclusive club.
So it came as a bit of a surprise, if not a downright shock, when John and the boys ran across some sort of rogue exorcist. A freelancer, not of the Twelve, who, of all things, was casting out demons in the name of Jesus. And this, at a time when the Twelve had failed to drive out a stubborn demon. This looks bad. “How dare he do that? He wasn’t one of us. He wasn’t following us. Who does this guy think he is, anyway? Well, we put a stop to that. Told him right there, ‘You’re not part of our gang, you don’t cast out demons in the name of our man.” I’m sure that thought Jesus would approve, but He didn’t.
Instead, He says something very strange. “Whoever is not against us is for us.” That’s right. Whoever is not against us is for us. We usually say it the opposite way, the exclusive way: Whoever is not for us is against us. That’s how we define an ally and a friend. But Jesus turns it around and stands it on its head. Whoever is not against us is for us. You see, the only way out of Jesus’ kingdom is to oppose it, resist it, reject it. But the claims of the kingdom and its power over the darkness go far beyond the scope and range of the Twelve. Jesus is much bigger a Savior than even they can imagine.
And He’s much bigger a Savior than we often credit Him as well. One of the great geniuses of the Lutheran reformation was that it didn’t create a new church. There was no such thing as a Lutheran Church, simply Lutheran churches. Churches that taught the same thing about how a sinner stands justified before God, declared righteous, innocent and blameless of the sake of Jesus Christ alone. But they didn’t form a new church. They simply reformed the churches. And they were able to see the church in any gathering in which the Gospel was preached and Baptism and the Lords’ Supper for going on. In other words, we allowed for the “unknown exorcist,” the one who proclaim the kingdom even though he isn’t “one of us.”
But it isn’t always that way. We sometimes think if they aren’t Lutheran they aren’t Christian. And Jesus would remind us of the same: If they aren’t against us they are for us. And there’s the key to understanding the kingdom of heaven that Jesus is bringing by His dying and rising. It is both exclusive and inclusive. It embraces the world inclusively, yet it is exclusively Jesus who does. The world has no other Savior, nor does it need one.
It also reminds us that we have no exclusive claims on Jesus, even though He has an exclusive claim on us. That means we don’t assume that God hasn’t arrived on the scene until we have. It means we’re more inclined to listen to what God has done before we got there. He has His agents scattered all over the place, the Eldad’s and Medad’s who prophesy in the camp of Israel, the unknown exorcist who is casting out demons in the name of Jesus, the nurse who prays with her patients, the trucker who tells others on the road the good news of salvation in Jesus. When you listen you the stories of the kingdom, you begin to marvel at how resourceful and “out of the box” God can really be.
That brings us to the main course, namely, Jesus dire threat against anyone who would cause a little one of faith to stumble. And here we need a quick vocabulary lesson. I don’t think “cause to sin” is the best way of translating “scandalizo.” I think “cause to stumble” is better. A scandalon is a stumbling point, a rock you trip over, something in your path that causes you to fall. Jesus isn’t thinking about sin here but obstacles to faith. The little ones of faith “who believe in Me.” Don’t you dare get between one of those and Jesus. Don’t be the cause a little one of faith to stumble in his childlike trust. Don’t create doubt where there is none or you’ll wish you had a millstone hung around your neck and you were tossed into the sea. That’s how seriously Jesus takes His little ones who believe in Him.
You see, if you hear it in terms of faith and not in terms of sin, then what Jesus says next makes perfectly good sense. If your eye causes you to stumble in your faith, pluck it out and toss it away. It better to be blind and to trust your ears rather than your eyes. Faith comes by hearing. Faith is blind. If you think you see Jesus for who He is and trust your eyes, you’re as good as blind. You need to close your eyes and look with your ears. Hear the Word that reveals much more than the eye can see. That’s what faith is about – trusting the Word over and against what you see.
If Jesus were talking about sin, then the whole thing would be ridiculous. If you’re eye causes you to sin, then pluck it out. Fine and dandy. What about the other eye? What about your imagination? What about the corrupt and sinful heart from which all sin proceeds? Plucking your eye out won’t do a thing for your sin except to make you a one-eyed sinner.
Again, if your hand causes you to stumble in your faith, if what you do, your works, cause you to doubt God’s undeserved mercy in Jesus, then you may as well cut your hand off and be without works. But again, cutting off the offending hand to remedy sin will not make a one-handed sinner. And cutting the other hand off won’t help either.
This isn’t Jesus preaching morality and ethics.. This is Jesus preaching the kingdom, a radical kingdom that justifies the ungodly and declares sinners to be righteous in a righteousness not their own. And the religious world would throw a big speed bump in front of you and say, “Wait a minute, you’ve gotta do something to be saved.” And that, my friends, is what Jesus is talking about. You see salvation by grace alone through faith alone for Jesus’ sake alone is a scandal, a stumbling block, to the religious world, because all religions, save one, are in the business of doing things to get right with God. And it’s all that religious doing and religious seeing that’ll land it you straight in an unquenchable fire and undying worm of a hell that is entirely unnecessary because Jesus has died for it all on a cross.
This is a dire warning on the one hand, yes. But it is also a great comfort. This is how seriously Jesus takes your faith in Him. He threatens anyone who would get between you and Him, who would cause you to doubt your salvation or stumble in your faith. In the same way James speaks this morning of the noble work of restoring someone who has stumbled and wandered from the truth. You are literally saving his soul and covering a multitude of his sins
That brings us to the seasoning sprinkled over this whole dish. Salt. Sacrifices were sprinkled with salt before they were offered. Salty disciples are disciples who have been liberally sprinkled with the salt of Jesus’ resurrection, baptized into it, preached it, fed it. No matter where you turn, whether to Baptism, to the Word, to the Supper, it’s about Jesus’ sacrifice and you being salted with it. And when a disciple or a church loses it’s saltiness, when it gets off the bead of Jesus’ death and resurrection, it is not worth much of anything except to be scattered on the road and be trampled under foot.
This bland world is in dire need of seasoning, and you are it, dear baptized believers. Sprinkled as salt upon the earth, seasoning the world with Jesus’ death and resurrection. “Have salt in yourselves.” Be salted with the sacrifice of Christ. Have His death and life have their way with you, and you will have peace with God and with one another. For it is by that one Death on a Good Friday and that one Resurrection on a Sunday that we are at peace with God and are able to be at peace with one another.
In the name of Jesus,