John said to him, ‘Master, we saw a man who is not one of us casting out devils in your name; and because he was not one of us we tried to stop him.’ But Jesus said, ‘You must not stop him: no one who works a miracle in my name is likely to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us. If anyone gives you a cup of water to drink just because you belong to Christ, then I tell you solemnly, he will most certainly not lose his reward. But anyone who is an obstacle to bring down one of these little ones who have faith, would be better thrown into the sea with a great millstone around his neck. And if your hand should cause you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life crippled, than to have two hands and go to hell, into the fire that cannot be put out. And if your foot should cause you to sin, but it off; it is better for you to enter into life lame, than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye should cause you to sin, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell where their worm does not die nor their fire go out.’
Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
This incident illustrates the fiery temperament of St. John, otherwise called “Son of Thunder.” Jesus reminds him that even though the exorcist in question did not belong to the ‘group’ he would not have succeeded in driving out devils unless he believed in him. More particularly, if he was not opposed to the disciples he was not opposed to Christ. Jesus’ lesson has permanent value for us also. We must always be tolerant and understanding of those who are outside the body of the Church but who live in good faith. ‘If anyone gives you a cup of water to drink just because you belong to Christ, then I tell you solemnly, he will most certainly not lose his reward (v.41).
Concerning sin, Jesus uses hyperbole to emphasise the drastic measures that are needed to avoid it. Because public sin can influence others to sin the consequences for those who cause scandal are worse than being drowned in the ocean. According to St. John Chrysostom (Homily on Matthew 59), severing bodily limbs signifies the cutting away of intimate friends and relatives who drag Christians away from holiness. It is better to enter heaven without them than to maintain their company in eternal misery, “where their worm does not die” (v.48). Some understand this latter phrase in the literal sense, of creatures that will form part of the eternal torment of the souls. Taken from the last verse of the book of Isaiah, the term more probably means the eternal remorse of conscience.
This Gospel account makes ostensible the consequences of sin. Every person sins during his or her lifetime. The question is not whether God will forgive us, but whether we have the courage to be honest about ourselves and admit our faults. Only by first acknowledging our faults can we ask for the forgiveness that God is always ready to give.
Director, Religious Education and Evangelisation