Last weekend, along with many other Anglicans from the Diocese of BC, I was away at Synod, practicing being part of the wider Christian community embodied in the concept of Diocese.

Some of the parishioners in the church where I serve were tempted to think that I personally planned Synod for this weekend (a power I certainly lack) in order to avoid having to face the Gospel reading appointed for the day. And there is no question that Mark 9:42-50 is a challenging, awkward and uncomfortable text.

But, I have addressed it before in my preaching. So, for anyone who might be interested, below is a shortened version of what I once said about this passage:

Mark 9:42-50

The context of Mark 9:42-50 suggests that the dominant concern in this text is the matter of community. Jesus’ disciples have been drawing lines in the sand (Mark 9:38), deciding who is in and who is out. They have been judging whose ministry they deem acceptable and whose ministry they believe should be excluded. This is not the community of Jesus.

The community Jesus came to establish is an open, inclusive, welcoming community, in which any contribution “in his name” (Mk 9:39) is always embraced. Jesus was determined to tackle anything that might “put a stumbling block” in the way of anyone finding their place and exercising their ministry in his community.

Jesus’ central message in Mark 9:42-50 is that, at all costs, we must maintain Christian community.  And, whenever there is a break down of Christian community it is a sign of sin in the lives of all those who have been involved in the break down.

Therefore, in order to maintain the sacred bond of community, I must be wiling to admit and root out of my life all selfish, self-serving, self-indulgent attitudes and behaviours.

In Mark 9:43-48 Jesus uses the most exaggerated images imaginable to emphasize the importance of protecting the open welcoming nature of the community he came to inaugurate. If we allow anything in our lives to cause anyone to “stumble” in relationship to “one of these little ones who believe in me”, we need to root out of our own lives that offending attitude or behaviour that may harm the integrity of the community.

The apostle Paul seemed to agree with Jesus that the breakdown of community is devastating for our spiritual lives.  Paul wrote that, “all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.  For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died” (I Corinthians 11:29).  When we share in the eucharistic meal without recognizing the deep, intimate connection and bond which this sharing creates between us, that is “without discerning the body,” we are damaging ourselves.  It would be better for us to be physically destroyed than to fail to know the deep inner spiritual bond that we have with all those who share with us in the eucharistic feast.

When we fail in community we suffer and the suffering spreads, “it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into Gehenna” (the place of suffering). It is better to limp broken and bruised along with our fellow pilgrims, entering “the kingdom of God” than to be a community that creates suffering through exclusion – being “thrown into Gehenna” – the place outside the city wall where there is the endless pain of loneliness, exclusion and judgment.

Frankly, I don’t quite know what we do with this.  I think that human community is probably the most difficult thing of all for our culture.  It is just too easy to walk away.  It is just too easy not to bother.  It is just too hard to maintain meaningful connections.

For the most part, we do not have much Christian community to preserve these days.  As twenty-first century North American Christians, we mostly live in splendid isolation.  We are incurably individualistic.  We do not need one another and often are not all that sure we want to be bothered with one another.

People are messy; people are difficult.  The challenge of living in human relationships is just too much hassle.  It is a lot easier staying home and watching life on television or connecting from the comfortable controlled distance of social media rather than being intimately involved in other peoples’ lives.

I do not believe that the problem in the church today is a lack of commitment to Jesus.  We are committed to Jesus; we do desire to live good and godly lives.  Our problem is living out that commitment in relationship to Jesus’ people.

And I am the last person in the world to get up and preach to anyone about human community.  I am a naturally curmudgeonly old man who finds it difficult most of the time to put up with myself let alone many other people.  But, I know that God calls us to be together.  I know that God calls us with Jesus to draw the circle wide and to include each other within the parameters of love.

So, I can only urge myself, as I urge you, to try to understand what it means for us to belong together.  What does it mean for us to give one another “a cup of water” (Mk. 9:41) in Jesus’ name?   How do we live out our commitment to Jesus Christ in relationship to Jesus’ people?