I was wondering what to post for All Saints’ Day, when along comes a couple of reflections from Sister Johanna of Minster Abbey, which fit just right for today and for All Souls’ Day tomorrow. Enjoy these hope-filled posts!
Anyone who is not against us is for us. (Mk 9:40).
This short saying of Jesus is one I have not really pondered before now. It is soon followed in verse 43 by some of Jesus’ most sensational sayings, all about cutting off your hand if it should cause you to sin and to do likewise with your foot and your eye, should they become wayward. This self-inflicted apocalyptic has always rather overwhelmed me, to tell you the truth. I know that Jesus is not speaking literally here; he is using hyperbole to make his point. So what is my problem? I cannot entirely answer that question, but what has tended to happen in my lectio divina* is that the effort to cope with those fierce sayings of Jesus has somehow resulted in my inability to ‘see’ those few words of Jesus in Mark 9:40: Anyone who is not against us is for us.
But the Holy Spirit working through the text saw to it that today I would hear those words with much greater attention: Anyone who is not against us is for us. For the first time I thought, ‘What an encouraging remark this is, Lord!’ I briefly imagined him saying it with a little rueful smile – for he says those words right after he has had to correct his disciples for trying to stop a man who was not connected to the disciples from casting out devils in Jesus’ name. Poor disciples: wrong again! Jesus tells them that a person who works a miracle in his name is emphatically not one of their problem people, even if they’ve never seen him before in their lives.
Anyone who is not against us is for us. I repeated this saying slowly and soon found myself focussing on the generosity of Jesus that is expressed in the first word of this saying, ‘anyone’. The Greek word for it is tiny, consisting of only two letters. It is also translated as whoever or whosoever – so the meaning is clear: this small word has big implications: it includes anyone and everyone who is “not against” Jesus. The reason for the rueful smile became clear to me: Jesus’ saying includes the disciples, too – who manage to muddle a lot of things in their three-year training period. Their wrong-headedness perhaps places them among the most dubious of disciples at times, but they are still counted among those who are ‘for’ Jesus.