Gospel: Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48


What scandals have you heard about in the past two months? How did they affect you?

Scandals, like gossip, create news, headlines, and the patter of talk shows. Politicians and entertainers cause the public concern with their dress, their lifestyle, or their secrets. Indeed, scandal not only drives public opinion. It can increase profits for media and visibility for publicity-hungry.

When it comes to the Church, scandal multiplies problems. Not only does the community lose faith, the community loses face with potential converts. Church scandal also gives those who oppose the faith reason for persecution. But, what happens when the scandal within the Church is caused by the good of non-Christians?

In Mark's gospel, Jesus addressed both issues. Scandals caused by good. Scandals caused by evil.

Popular Translation

38 John said Jesus, "Teacher, we saw someone using your name to throw devils out of people. Since he wasn't one of us, we tried to stop him!" 39 "Don't stop him!" Jesus replied. "There is no one who will use my name to do powerful things one minute and speak evil about me the next. 40 Whoever does not make himself my enemy is my friend. 41 Whoever gives you a drink of water from a cup because you follow the Christ will be paid back. I guarantee it!

42 But, the person who scandalizes even the smallest that trust me would be better off if he had a large stone placed around his neck and thrown into the sea before he caused the scandal. 43 If your hand causes you scandal, cut if off! You'd be better off if you entered eternal life without a hand than have two hands and suffer in hell, where the fire never ends. 45 If your foot scandalizes you, cut it off! You'd be better off if you entered eternal life with one foot than have two feet and be thrown into hell. 47 If you eye causes you scandal, cut it out! You'd be better off if you entered God's Kingdom without an eye than have both eyes and be thrown into hell. 48 There 'the worm does not die and the fire does not go out!'"

What is worse to be scandalized or to cause scandal? Self interest scandalizes. But, so can following God's will. The answer to the dilemma turns on intention and discernment.

Literal Translation

38 John said to HIM, "TEACHER, we saw someone expelling demons in YOUR name and we were forbidding him because he was not following us. 39 But JESUS said, "Do not forbid him. For there is no one who will do powerful things in my name and will be able to quickly speak ill of me. 40 For, who is not against us is in behalf of us. 41 For, whoever might give you drink (from) a cup of water on the grounds that you are of Christ, Amen, I say to you that he will (definitely) not lose his earnings.

9:41 "Amen, I say to you that he will (definitely) not lose his earnings." Mark made the sentence emphatic in two ways. First, Mark used the standard phrase for emphasis ("Amen, I say to you") but in mid-sentence! Second, he placed a double negative with the verb ("he will not not lose his earnings"). Obviously, Mark was making the point: the one who showed the least kindness to the Christian will be offered grace by God. (In fact, the kindness itself is a response to God's call).

The disciples were scandalized by an outsider curing in Jesus' name. To the Jew of Jesus' time, a name revealed the power and purpose of the person; to invoke the name of Jesus meant to tap into his healing power. But use of the name had a price; to use a name meant the one invoking it had a relationship to the person, the power, and the movement the name represented. On these grounds, John objects to the outsider healing in Jesus' name. John's question seems to say: "How dare he! This outsider should be one of us!" [38]

Jesus turned the objection to the question of discipleship. No matter how small the kind act, no one who did good in the name of Jesus should be stopped. In fact, anyone who did not oppose Jesus and his movement were considered potential friends and benefactors. (This outward world view allowed Christianity to grow rapidly. Anyone was a potential Christian.) Friendship began with a simple kindness. A benefactor relationship began with a single act of charity. The good others did for Christ and his followers did matter!

But what good were the disciples inside the movement doing?

42 Whoever might scandalize one of these little ones trusting [in ME], it is better for him rather if the milestone of a donkey had been set around his neck and he had been thrown into the sea. 43 If your hands scandalizes you, cut it off. It is better (that) you go into (eternal) life deformed than, having two hands, to go off into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot scandalizes you, cut it off. It is better to go into (eternal) life lame than, having two feet, to be thrown into Gehenna. 47 And if you eye scandalizes you, throw it out. For it is better to go into the Kingdom of God one-eyed than, having two eyes, to be thrown into Gehenna, 48 'where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'"

9:42 "it is better for him rather if the milestone of a donkey had been set around his neck and he had been thrown into the sea." The force of the two verbs indicate it would have been better that the person died before causing the scandal.

9:43 "It is better (that) you go into (eternal) life deformed . . . " Compare this statement with Leviticus 21:17-24, where only the undeformed could lead worship. Only the physically intact high priest could enter the Holy of Holies, the place the populace believed YHWH definitely dwelt. In addition, self-inflicted wounds were forbidden in the Torah.

Now Mark stated the self-deformed could enter the kingdom. Ignore, for a moment, the fact that Mark used this extreme language symbolically. The weight of the statement was simple. Not only the sinners (the "deformed") could enter the Kingdom, the righteous (those with "two hands") could suffer eternal punishment! In addition, sometimes needed to "deform themselves" (i.e., leave the community of the "righteous" for the community of "sinners") to be saved.

"unquenchable" in Greek is "asbeston," the root word for "asbestos."

9:43, 45, 47 "Gehenna" The valley of Hinnom, south and west of ancient Jerusalem. This valley became infamous as the "high place" for idol worship among Judah's monarchs (including an oven for human sacrifice). Because of it reputation, "Gehenna" became metaphor for eternal damnation in the time of Jesus.

9:44, 46 "where the worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched" Both verses are the same. Most scholars do not believe these verses are part of the original text, so they are deleted from most modern translations.

9:48 "where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched." Unlike 9:44 and 9:46, this verse is original. This verse was an adaptation of Isaiah 66:24

"And they shall go forth and look on the dead bodies of the men that have rebelled against me; for their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh." (RSV)

The worm referred to the nature decay process of dead bodies. Those who rebelled against God would suffer unending decay and fiery punishment.

Were the actions of the disciple causing scandal to the "little ones?" Scandal was such a great concern, it deserved a great punishment (to make the point Jesus inferred capital punishment in v. 42). In the gospels, the "little ones" can be either the faithful or traveling missionaries. Scandal among the congregation or the leadership caused dissension, discord, and disunity. It could destroy the Church to a far greater extent than any outsider.

In v. 43, 45, and 47, Jesus used extreme language to make his point about the choice between the Kingdom and Gehanna. For the Jew in Jesus' time, the hand and the foot represented the areas of human activity. Did the activity of the disciple represent Christ or selfishness and evil influence? It was better not to be involved in a certain activity (have hands and feet "cut off") than to scandalize and be condemned.

The eyes [47] represented windows to one's heart and mind. Their use could weaken or strengthen the faith life of the disciple. Better not to see something (have the eyes "cut out") than to "scandalize" one's self and be condemned.

Catechism Theme: Respect for the Dignity of Persons (Scandal) (CCC2284-2287)

"Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil." (CCC 2284) The sin of scandal depends upon the reasons of those who cause the scandal or the weakness of the scandalized. Those who have power to influence others (people in media, teachers, law makers, etc.) have a particular responsibility to avoid causing scandal. The content of scandal can be institutional (i.e., a law or exercise of power). It can also be a matter of fad or opinion.

Those within the Church have a particular need to avoid scandal, so the Church can promote evangelization. But, the Church and Christians can never completely avoid scandalizing those who oppose Christ. Living out the faith can divide people, as much as it invites people to the Lord.

How has your practice of the faith challenge others? Did it invite others to join? Or, did it cause others to step away? What happened?

What is worse, to cause scandal or to be scandalized? Neither advance faith, only egos. Both can destroy faith and community participation. Both can lead to spiritual death.

Jesus gave us guidelines to address scandal. Encourage the faith of those outside the community. Know yourself and your weaknesses that can cause scandal. And, do not aspire to offices where you can cause scandal. Jesus wanted an increase in faith, not scandal. We should, too.

When believers cause scandal, it is a challenge away from faith. But, when God causes scandal, it is a challenge to faith. God's will (his "scandal") requires openness of mind and heart. What time and energy have you spent seeking God's will, hearing his voice?