Mark 9: 38-50
19th Sunday after Pentecost; September 30th, 2018
Text: Mark 9, 38-50
38John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”39But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40Whoever is not against us is for us. 41For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.42“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. 43If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. 47And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, 48where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.49“For everyone will be salted with fire. 50Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
When I was young I often heard the well-known Korean folk tale about the disobedient blue frogs. Later, as a parent I told this story to my children when they were young. It goes like this.
Once upon a time there was a mother frog and her sons. The sons were always in trouble. They never listened to their mother. When the mother frog said, “Go east,” they said, “Hey, let’s go west,” and they went west. When she said, “Go west.” “No, we’ll go east,” they said, and they went east. When the mother frog said, “Go play on the hills today.” “No, we want to play by the river,” the sons said. The frog sons always did the opposite to what they were told. They never listened to their mother. The mother frog worried about her sons everyday. One day she became ill. She knew that she was going to die soon. She called for her sons, and told them her last wish. “Dear sons, when I die, please bury me by the river, not on the hills. And then she passed away. The mother frog really wanted to be buried on the hills, but she knew that her sons would do the opposite. So she asked them to bury her by the river.
When their mother died, the frog sons felt very sorry. They had never listened to her before. They all cried over her body. And then they made up their minds to change. “We are sorry, mother,” all the sons cried. “We should have listened to you. We have been the worst sons in the world. We promise that from now on we are going to be the best. We must listen to your last wish, and bury you by the river.” So they went down to the river, and buried their mother there. But whenever it rained, the river overflowed. The sons worried about their mother’s grave, that the rain would wash it away. They gathered by the river and cried. “Rain, please stop, you are going to wash away our mother’s grave.”
In the summer time in Korea, when frogs were crying or singing their mournful songs, I would remember the story and be reminded to be a good son. In Canada, when I told the story to my children, my intention was that they would learn to grow to be good children. But when I told the story to my children, they began to cry, “It’s too sad a story.” Yes, it is a very sad story. The story is intended to be a warning, a kind of shock therapy, designed to get our attention and keep it, and to imagine a better way to behave.
Jesus sometimes used shock therapy. Last week we remembered how Jesus frequently spoke of the kin-dom of God in the language of impossible or unexpected combinations. For example, “What is the kin-dom of God like? And to what should I compare it? It is like a mustard seed. It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour.” In last week’s lectionary readings, we read, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all. Then Jesus took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” These images of the kin-dom of God were shocking to the people and the disciples listening to these parables. This scripture shakes our image of the kingdom of God because little things and nobodies are to be central characters in the stories of God.
Today we read more shocking news. “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.” I think this verse would not show up on many people’s list of favourite Bible stories. This may well be the least of our favourite Bible stories, because it is too primitive, too grotesque, and it seems to command self-damage, which does not sound like Jesus at all.
In today’s scripture, Mark makes these the last words of Jesus in his homeland. When he is finished he will travel south from Galilee into Judea, where death awaits him in Jerusalem. The words of Jesus reflect the serious significance of the journey towards Jerusalem. Knowing how his teaching and action offends the political and religious authorities of his day and that he is moving towards inevitable death, he invites us, his listeners today, to decide and to act for life, not death. How, then, do we attain life or wholeness? What should we do to keep our wholeness? Where is hope?
We have hands. What do we do with hands? The role of hands is to share something with others. When we think of the use of our hands, one use is to hold things and put them into our pockets. There is a Korean saying that hands bend inward. This is true. However, practising our faith is reaching out our hands to others, welcoming and embracing others, especially the nobodies in society, those who are not valued in our midst. I like to think that our hands symbolize love. When we share something we practise the love of God.
We have feet. What do we do with feet? The role of feet is to move from place to place. Just as Jesus moved from Galilee to Jerusalem we move from here out into the community. When we move we often go out beyond the boundaries of our faith community. Sometimes we move beyond our traditional social norms and limits. As Jesus and the Syro-Phoenician woman moved beyond their boundaries, we move beyond our cultural, religious and safe boundaries. I like to think that our feet symbolize hope. When we move beyond our comfortable boundaries we practise hope in the new community, the kin-dom of God.
We have eyes. What do we do with eyes? The role of eyes is to see what is right and true and to see beyond. We see the model of the kin-dom of God in our world and imagine what the kin-dom of God can be and do something to bring it into being. We see the world with the vision of Jesus. With the vision we practise our faith and ministry. I like to think that our eyes symbolize faith. Our vision may not yet be clear, however with Jesus’ vision we can see further and practise our faith in God.
In the story of the disobedient frogs, there was no hope. Whenever it rained, the river overflowed. The sons worried about their mother’s grave. The sons were concerned the rain would wash their mother’s grave away. So they gathered by the river and cried. “Rain, please stop, you are going to wash away our mother’s grave.” This is a very sad story because the sons thought it was too late to follow their mother’s words.
But it is not too late for us. We are in the process of building an intercultural church, we can stretch out our arms to embrace all, we can use our good feet to carry us beyond our the conventional cultural and racial boundaries and we can use our keen eyes to see the world the way God sees it, so that God may guide our yearning to become whole and our vision to become an intercultural church. It is never too late to change our ways. With God’s vision for us we are building God’s kin-dom here and now. Thanks be to God for the gift of wisdom to become whole. Amen.
Hyuk Cho (Rev. Dr.)
Minister, West Point Grey United Church