Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Pray to Discern Jesus' Response to Evaluativism

The lectionary includes selections from Mark for each week this fall, so the pastor of my church has decided to preach a series on Mark. In two weeks, Sept 27, we (and probably many other churches) will be talking about Mark 9:38-50. I have been invited to teach on this passage in my church. This is also a big opportunity for other churches to consider Jesus's response to evaluativism.
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Many of the miracles Jesus performed are acts we would leave to doctors today, but His miracles of conflict resolution seem like miracles we might reproduce if we followed His example. In Mark 9:38, John brings Jesus a conflict to resolve: the disciples have tried to stop a stranger from casting out demons in Jesus' name.

Today, people who act in Jesus' name disagree about the degree to which such in-group/out-group distinctions should be made. At one extreme, Unitarian Universalists insist that everyone qualifies as a Christian, even if they prefer to seek truth through the teachings of Buddha than through the Bible. At the more conservative extreme are denominations who insist that those whom God has elected to save should honor God's holiness by setting themselves apart from the rest of the world.

Disagreement about the degree to which in-group/out-group distinctions should be made is a classic dimension of the tension that persists today between liberals and conservatives. We can turn to Mark 9:38-50 as an example of how to address that tension. Does Jesus side with liberals? Does He side with conservatives? Can we find rebuke in Jesus' answer, or does it show us what we want to see?

Some of the language seems poetic: "cut off your hand", "salted with fire", "have salt in yourselves." Previous theologians have not achieved consensus on what this all means. It has been called one of the more difficult passages of the New Testament. The poetry may refer to elements of the ancient world we no longer appreciate in the same way, and different translations of the Bible include or exclude translations of Greek text potentially added by scribes trying to clarify Mark's original.

Please pray for me as I try to interpret this passage, but also for all the other churches who will be facing the same challenge as they follow the lectionary. Important seeds could be planted on Sept 27th. To handle the conflict between liberals and conservatives would be a miracle. In Mark 9:38-50, Jesus might not only have performed that very miracle among his disciples, but also have given us a way to repeat that miracle today.

Thank you!

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