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Proper 21 | Ordinary Time 26, Cycle B

Mark 9:38-50

It is clearly stated in this pericope that all evil and all evil impulses in a person’s life must be opposed by each person. In order to accomplish this, criticism of one’s self must be incisive, “cutting,” and complete.

The core saying in Mark 9:40, “Whoever is not against us is for us,” as with other core sayings of Jesus in Mark, was probably remembered by his followers because it had been stated by the Jesus of history on so many occasions. It should be noted that the Matthean and Lukan redactors in contexts that are somewhat different from that in Mark turned the saying of Jesus “inside out” to present Jesus in Matthew 12:30 and in Luke 11:23 as saying that “The one who is not with me is against me.” According to this Mark 9:38-50 text, however, other people who oppose evil in Jesus’ name are to be supported even if they are in a different group.

Mark 9:38-50, therefore, does not require that there be unity in organization or uniformity in practice within the Church. Cell division into a multitude of denominations in the Church to permit and even to encourage diversity and to provide a multitude of opportunities to live and to serve has biblical sanction in the core saying of Jesus in this text. Without opportunities for diversity, rapid growth of the Church is not likely to occur. What are the implications of this for those who have difficulty in accepting into participation and leadership positions in the Church persons whose lifestyles are different from those of the majority of the people in the established Church? Why is it so important for us to note the distinction in this text between self-criticism that is supported by Jesus and criticism of others that is rejected by Jesus? Why are we often quick to criticize others and slow to criticize ourselves?

James 5:13-20

The writer of this epistle is directive throughout most of the document, and these final eight verses are not an exception. In the many and diverse situations of life, all persons are directed to pray for themselves and for each other. They should always help each other and ask God to guide them in the right path.

Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29

The Spirit of the Lord is said to have rested also upon the two men, Eldad and Medad, who had not gone out with Moses to receive from the Lord some of the Spirit of God that had previously been only upon Moses. When Joshua complained about this to Moses and asked Moses to silence these two men, Moses responded with the famous words, “I wish that all of the people of the Lord were prophets! I would be greatly pleased if the Lord would put the Spirit of the Lord upon every one of them!” The saying of Jesus in Mark 9:40 is consistent with this.

Furthermore, Formgeschichte (form study) analysis of this text indicates that the account functions among other things as an etiology that provides an explanation of the origin of prophecy in Israel. Apparently many of the Israelites were opposed to some of the expressions of prophecy in Israel, especially when, as in this case, the prophecy did not coincide with the wishes of some of the people. God is said, however, in this account, to have validated prophecy in Israel with the words spoken through Moses in Numbers 11:29. In a way that is similar to the validation of the Torah through Moses in the “burning bush” account in Exodus 3:1-4:17. In Numbers 11:24-29 prophecy in Israel is validated through Moses as a legitimate extension of the Torah. The implications of this are considerable for Israel, both theologically and historically. According to Numbers 11:24-29, the Lord God will not be limited to revelation given directly through Moses. In this text, the Lord God uses Moses in order to authorize an ongoing process of revelation. The implications of this extend also to us today. We believe that God continues God’s ongoing process of revelation through each of us in the Church and not only in the Church.

Psalm 19:7-14

The revelation of the Lord God in the Torah is acclaimed beautifully in this psalm. Although prophecy is not mentioned as such in this psalm, we can see in this psalm that when the psalmist proclaims the merits of the Torah to the people the psalmist is speaking prophetically in the basic sense of prophecy, which is to proclaim something for God to the people.

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22

In the context of the other texts selected for this day, these portions of the story about Esther provide a validation of a festival that is not mentioned or included anywhere in the Torah. Along with the validation of the festival of Purim, a celebration of the rescue of the Israelite-Jewish people from a decree of death to the Israelites-Jews issued by a cruel and vindictive oppressor, the Esther story is also validated as authoritative for Israel.

Psalm 124

This is one of numerous psalms celebrating the actions of the Lord God in rescuing Israel and its people from death and annihilation. It can be applied here to the rescue of the Jewish people in the Esther story. It can be applied, of course, also to the rescue of Jews in many other times as well, and to the rescue by God of Christians and of other people.

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen