Whoever Is Not Against Us Is For Us
Ordinary 26 Year B
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. Mark 9: 38 — 48
We are currently in a series of Gospel readings which reflect perennial values in the Christian spiritual life. These reflections help build our understanding of the way our Lord taught them to His first disciples, who have passed on His teaching for all future disciples.
One of the most common difficulties for Jesus is that the disciples are constantly trying to project the way of the world on to His mission. He has to work very hard at training them to reverse this process. So, let’s not be surprised if we discover ourselves doing the same. The good news is our Lord provides the answers.
In our current text we can discern that it is actually a cluster of sayings of Jesus put together by St. Mark, but not necessarily all spoken on the one occasion. We will group them as three parts: I verses 38 — 40, then II verses 41 and 42, and finally, III verses 43 — 48. The teaching is straightforward and we will introduce a number of quotes from great scholars to help us understand the message of Jesus.
Some Reflections from our Text
Part I Who does He think He is!?!
Verses 38 – 40
John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out
demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him
because he does not follow us.”
Jesus replied, “Do not prevent him. There is no one who
performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same
time speak ill of me.
For whoever is not against us is for us.
In the following paragraph, J. C. Ryle makes two very sound observations. First he explains that good things, many good deeds, are performed at times by people outside our own sphere of culture and religion: The second, that we must respect religious traditions or cultures which are different from our own. When we see people beyond our own traditions doing good deeds we need to respect the fact that God Himself authorises such persons, since it is He who performs the good in them.
Here is a golden rule indeed, and one that human nature
sorely needs, and has too often forgotten. Men of all branches
of Christ’s Church are apt to think that no good can be done
in the world unless it is done by their own party and
denomination. They are so narrow-minded that they cannot
conceive the possibility of working on any other pattern but
that which they follow. They make an idol of their own
peculiar ecclesiastical machinery, and can see no merit in
any other. They are like him who cried when Eldad and Medad
prophesied in the camp, “My lord Moses, forbid them.”
(Numbers 11: 26 — 29) ……. (J. C. Ryle)
26 Now two men, one named Eldad and the other Medad,
were not in the gathering but had been left in the camp.
They too had been on the list, but had not gone out to
the tent; yet the spirit came to rest on them also, and
they prophesied in the camp.
27 So, when a young man quickly told Moses, “Eldad and
Medad are prophesying in the camp,”
28 Joshua, son of Nun, who from his youth had been
Moses’ aide, said, “Moses, my lord, stop them.”
29 But Moses answered him, “Are you jealous for my
sake? Would that all the people of the LORD were
prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit
on them all!”
Everyone knew the story about Eldad and Medad. So this is a tricky situation for our Lord, who clearly had this story in mind. He has worked so hard to secure the close attention of the disciples to His teaching. Now they are demonstrating how seriously they have taken it to heart! And they are furious that an imposter — lacking their formal appointment and authorisation, appears to be having great success in cases where they were powerless (9: 14 — 18). There is a hint they may even attribute it to superstition and magic. But our Lord would have none of that!
William Lane has a paragraph which sums up rather powerfully just how the situation should have been viewed:
The action of the Twelve toward a stranger who was effective
in exercising Jesus’ power only points their own ineptness
and lack of understanding (See Numbers 11: 27 — 29, where
Joshua wishes to forbid the unauthorised exercise of the gift
The Twelve had an unduly narrow perspective toward the
work of God. The man had grasped that an essential
dimension of Jesus’ mission was the confrontation and defeat
of Satan. The use of Jesus’ name: (i.e. “I command you to
come out in Jesus’ name!”) shows an awareness that it was
Jesus who ordered the action, which was accomplished by
his sovereign will. In the light of the experience of Jewish
exorcists who misused Jesus’ name, without understanding
(Acts 19: 13 — 16; compare with Matthew 7: 21 — 23).
It is necessary to affirm that the name of Jesus discloses its
authentic power only when a man joins Jesus in faith and
obedience to the will of God.
Fr. Stock. OSB, has a helpful comment on our Lord’s attitude to all this —
Jesus has an optimistic outlook; he would draw the
fellow-travellers and the sympathisers into the fold.
The disciple community takes a defensive stand, setting
themselves on the alert against enemy attacks.
Benedictine Fr. Stock also quotes Professor William Lane to close off this section:
Verse 40: “Not against us is for us.” The sharp division
into two sides radicalises the demand to welcome
participation in the mission, even from unexpected quarters.
If anyone is working for Jesus’ cause, he cannot at the same
time be working against it.
All in all, this gives us a fairly clear direction regarding our treatment of “outsiders” and how we should avoid age-old competitive and superior attitudes.
Part II A cup of water! Is that all it takes?
Verses 41 and 42
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.
These two verses (41 and 42) often puzzle readers because Jesus words His statements very much as a “mobile rabbi” who expects His followers (us) to be familiar with His style and general spiritual approach. Thus a lot goes without saying — and we had better know what He is referring to or do the decent thing, and find out. An over-emphasis on text analysis (which is so common) can often blur the scenario. But the message is powerful, profound and yet plain! So, what is it?
In verse 41 Jesus makes the most unexpected statement ever recorded in Sacred Scripture. It is, if we may paraphrase it —
“I am declaring to you, with absolute, unqualified certitude —
that any person who does something so basic as pouring you
a cup of water to drink just because you demonstrate in your
life-style that you belong to and follow the Messiah — and
obviously because you are thirsty and have accepted his
invitation — that person will be welcomed into the
Household of God, to dwell with God for all eternity!”
Is that all it takes to get to heaven? We are asking the wrong question! This is rabbinic drilling at its best. Rabbi Yeshua, our Lord Jesus is using one of His favourite techniques to confront His disciples with a challenge to stop seeing courtesies, favours, privileges and preferential treatment directed at us, as due to us. They are not!
They are due to God and if we do not get that message — we cannot be disciples of His Son!
There can be no compromise! Christians who don’t “get it” will permit themselves to be elevated to all sorts of privileged positions, power and life-styles. But, all honour must be given to God, graciously and gratefully, or else. Or else what?
Verse 42 is most uncomfortable. We might feel deep down (but never say so) that our Lord is here spoiling the beautiful picture of loving service He has just referred to. In a way, He is, actually! He is making sure we take very, very, very real responsibility for our actions as His Ambassadors — which we are.
Jesus Messiah makes it abundantly clear in all of His teaching (not only the verses we have just read) that:—
• the most insignificant, hidden, unknown and “ordinary”
people are perfectly capable of performing in their own
quiet way, acts of charity, greatness, magnanimity, and
awesome beauty. These are a reflection of their heavenly
citizenship and are always, without exception, inspired
• these people are God’s treasures, and concerning them,
He is possessive, jealous, and even sometimes, seemingly
• they are sometimes highly educated, shrewd and skillful
— but sometimes, very under-educated, simple,
undemanding, and therefore pushed aside;
• if you dare mislead, deceive, manipulate or abuse any of
these treasures of My Father, you will be punished so
severely that it would be a luxury to be thrown into the
depths of the sea with a huge, heavy, hunk of rock around
your neck! That would be bad enough, but anyone who
mistreats God’s “little ones” is in for far worse!
So there we have it. We can see why people were either for or against Jesus. Listening to Him, you couldn’t be indecisive and “sit on the fence”. For a note on the reference to “a great millstone” see the Appendix 1
Verse 42 is a clear warning of the extreme seriousness of misleading another away from the teaching our Lord has commanded us to pass on to future generations. Our Lord attaches a very severe punishment for any such offence, thus drawing attention to the necessity of assessing carefully the effects of our teaching and example.
Part III This is no joke — this is for real!
Verses 43 — 48
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 it 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
In an age when a teacher had to rely on oral imagery to create a lasting effect on his listeners, Jesus was eminently successful. For more detail on our Lord’s use of imagery see:
Many people today, even if they are unclear about the spiritual meaning of this passage, are still very familiar with our Lord’s illustration. The imagery is so extreme and horrendous that it is repulsive, and that is exactly what is intended. Sin, in the teaching of Jesus, is so serious, that we are bound to take every measure within our reach, to minimise the occurrence. This is an excellent example of rabbinic emphasis on the horror of sin to magnify, as it were, the beauty of fellowship with God and the great treasure we may be in danger of throwing away. Membership of God’s Household outshines all other possessions. This is the real point Jesus is making in His rabbinic style.
We know what leads us into occasions of compromise, and Jesus expects each person to audit their own actions and take appropriate steps. That is hard, as He has often acknowledged, but the alternative is worse!
To enter life is to share in God’s eternal life and His future
To miss his goal is the most terrible lot that can befall a
human being. Augustine Stock, OSB.
(Note: Most modern versions of St Mark’s Gospel omit verses 44
and 46 in Chapter 9. They are both identical with verse 48,
and are thought to be a later addition in classical style to
balance the structure of the text. They do not constitute a
tampering with the sacred text.)
This has been quite a torrid text to reflect upon, but then it does deal with genuine difficulties. However, typical of the teaching of Jesus, it spells out clearly what is required, and if meditated upon, will help show the way ahead.
We close with a short reflection:
A sympathetic, understanding outlook and the refusal of
spiritual and religious monopolies should characterise
the disciples of Christ. Joshua failed to understand the
prophetic charism of the two men who had not come to
the Tent of Meeting. John could not understand how
people could expel demons in the name of Jesus without
belonging to the Twelve. As for ourselves, how frequently,
under pretext of orthodoxy, do we identify belonging to
Jesus with some kind of exclusive option of a
denominational, social or even political kind? No one
can take possession of the Spirit of the risen One: He is
greater than any human group, any social movement,
any religious family. He rejects all ecclesiastical
provincialism, every pretension to monopolise the
dynamism of which He is the source.
From: Glenstal Bible Missal
For those who would like a detailed study resource
on the readings for Sunday, please visit:
If you require only the section on the Gospel reading,
just scroll down the page.
To view all the material on the Agape website please visit:
This website is highly recommended:
Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature
(Mark 16: 15)
Let us remember God’s Teaching, contained in His Word and
Whoever Is Not Against Us Is For Us
Ordinary 26 Year B St. Mark 9: 38 to 48
1. Jesus said, “Whoever is not against us is for us”.
Our Reflection offers comments on this way of reasoning, at both the opening and conclusion. It is an easy saying of our Lord to remember, and good for us to apply. We do, however, need to avoid being naïve. In fact, much harm is done when people use it as an excuse to avoid discernment, and sorting out those who “get away with murder” by using it as a protective covering.
The future apostles were right to question the validity of the stranger driving out demons. Our Lord did not deny that. But He would not entertain any sort of exclusivity or sense of control His disciples were rather close to displaying. These are the features which expose the fraudsters, the purveyors of false religion.
2. Jesus declares that the educated and highly trained are responsible for the proper education of the non-specialists. The greatest care must be taken to pass on the true and authentic teaching He has provided, and to avoid anything misleading.
Such a status can attract all sorts of honours, benefits and “perks”. But the disciples of Jesus, throughout the ages, are to shun anything of advantage to themselves and focus entirely on their God-given mission. They must travel light, and not be addicted to acquiring mere worldly goods.
3. Jesus taught much about “entering into life” and “entering the Kingdom of God.”
Both phrases mean the same: fullness of His Risen Life: that is our heritage. We are baptised into it but we can lose it if we do not stay close to Him, seek Him in every way He taught us, and do not forget that we are called to be servants, not masters! If we can get that firmly rooted in our minds then the teaching method of Jesus about “cutting off,” and “plucking out” parts of the body will reveal their true message. And that is, it is worth abandoning every temptation in order to retain our place in, and our membership of the Household of God.
Mark 9: 38 to 48
Ordinary 26 Year B
38 9 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out
39 Jesus replied, “Do not prevent him. There is no one who
40 For whoever is not against us is for us.
41 Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you
42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe (in me)
43 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to
45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you
47 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Better for you
48 where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’
9 [38-41] Jesus warns against jealousy and intolerance toward others, such as exorcists who do not follow us. The saying in ⇒ Mark 9:40 is a broad principle of the divine tolerance. Even the smallest courtesies shown to those who teach in Jesus’ name do not go unrewarded.
10 [43,45,47] Gehenna: see the note on ⇒ Matthew 5:22.
11 [44,46] These verses, lacking in some important early manuscripts, are here omitted as scribal additions. They simply repeat ⇒ Mark 9:48 itself a modified citation of ⇒ Isaiah 66:24.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised
“A great millstone ….. around his neck.”
“A great millstone (mylos onikos)“ literally “donkey millstone.” “A particularly large stone which in a fixed mill (as compared with a hand mill) rested on another stone and had a hole through the middle. It was called a donkey mill. Either because a donkey was needed to turn it or because of the shape of the understone.” (R. Schnackenburg, ad loc). This punishment had been inflicted by the Romans in Galilee on some of the leaders of the insurrection under the early Zealot leader, Judas the Galilean (See Acts 5: 37).
“Hung around his neck” — the man’s head pokes through the hole in the great stone’s centre. He has been most conclusively stoned as befits one who has given scandal. D. Derrett has pointed out that this is the case of talio #. The culprit has placed a “stone of stumbling” where some little ones will trip over it, and so a stone should be used to make him fall into the depths. Stoning was the traditional punishment for idolaters, false prophets and seducers. Stoning was not confined to hurling rocks at people: one could “precipitate” them or one could crush them with one huge bolder. “Our culprit is thus simultaneously (i) stoned, (ii) sunk to the depths, (iii) punished with YHWH’s ## typical talionic penalty ….. and (iv) deprived of burial so important for the purity of the Land.”
(“Two harsh Sayings of Christ Explained”. D. Derrett, Downside Review 103 [352, 1985] 221).
# talio — See our information page — Talio
“Cut it off! — pluck it out!”
“Cut it off” — a literal fulfillment is out of the question. When Jesus requires the surrender of life he is not demanding physical suicide; so here he is not demanding physical self-mutilation. Every member of the body which God has created, indeed, every hair, is in God’s hand. But for the sake of the unconditional rule of God these members must not be put in the service of sinful desire. The sinful member must be renounced in respect of its function in order that the whole person may not lose life. Jesus seriously meant that people must do everything to gain a share in the Kingdom of God.
“Better for you to enter life” — In the present passage Jesus names life as the goal of man’s personal existence which brings him true salvation, and then with the same meaning, the ‘kingdom of God’.” (R. Schnakenburg, p. 35)
From, “The Method and Message of Mark”
A note by C. H. Turner.
Hell: in the Greek ‘gehenna’ (‘go’ in Hebrew is ‘valley,’ on 14: 32 ), the valley of Hinnom, a ravine which ran down southwards on the west of Jerusalem, meeting ultimately the valley of Kidron which came down from the east side. It was the place where refuse was thrown out, and, we may presume, burnt to consume and purify: for only so can we give intelligible meaning to the words that follow. The phrase attached to Gehenna in verse 48, the undying worm and the unquenchable fire, comes direct from the Septuagint Greek Bible, Isaiah 66: 24 — but ‘Gehenna’ and ‘unquenchable fire’ are in Isaiah 66: 43 obviously intended as equivalents, and though no doubt every Jew knew what Gehenna meant literally, it had come to be used in the Jewish language as a symbol of the place of future punishment, and our versions are no doubt right in rendering it ‘hell.’ Certainly our Lord uses it here as the opposite state to ‘life’ and ‘the kingdom of God.’ More He does not tell us directly. We can be sure that no soul which turns, whenever and wherever, to God will fail of welcome: we cannot be sure that the will may not become so obstinately hardened against God that it is no longer able to turn to Him, and no man can be saved against his will, any more than anyone could be cured by our Lord without concurrence of his own.
From, The Gospel according to St. Mark by C. H. Turner.
These four letters are sometimes referred to as the Tetragramaton (a Greek word meaning ‘four letters’) They have become, in fact, a symbol for the Holy Name of God, which today is usually given the pronunciation of Yahweh or Yahveh.
In Jewish tradition this title for God is not spoken out aloud but generally whispered — if used at all. A common Jewish substitute is “HaShem,” meaning, “the Name.”
Our Lord’s name in Hebrew, “Yeshua” contains a link with the Holy Name:
“Ye” from Yahweh (God)
In traditional Christianity, the Holy Name of Yeshua, or Jesus is used “sparingly” following the Hebrew customary respect. A common replacement is, “our Lord”. Additionally, when in prayer and worship, traditional Christians bow at least the head, in respect for our Blessed Saviour. As St. Paul (Rabbi Sha-ul) taught:
….. that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend,
This much misunderstood principle of “retaliation” (which derives from the word),
Thus whilst talionic practice was hazardous and impractical, as a principle to guide judgments and punishment it made a significant contribution to the administration of justice. It even led much later to great rabbinic teachings such as that of the much esteemed Rabbi Hillel who maintained the whole of Torah (Divine Law) was contained in the admonition that you should not do to another what you would not like have done to yourself.
As we know, Rabbi Yeshua (Jesus) emphasised this throughout His three year ministry, and it is recorded in several places in the Gospels.