Please don’t cut off your hand… a sermon on Mark 9:38-50

This week’s readings can be found here.

When I was a teenager I received a bit of sage advice. I don’t remember who told me this, nor have I looked to see if this is an academically studied fact, but nevertheless, this advice has been something I have used often as a guiding light in my interactions with other humans:

The things that we dislike about other people are often a reflection of something we dislike within ourselves.

I’ve used this advice as a kind of check for when someone does something that rubs me the wrong way. For example: it makes me crazy when people are in traffic and change lanes (or cross over multiple lanes) without using a blinker.

I genuinely dislike the danger this causes.

However, when holding this against what it rubs against within me, I see that it reflects my tendency to be a bit selfish and put my needs ahead of others.

  And so I use this as a reminder that it’s important to put others first.

         This is a very Biblical idea, both to put others first, and to be self-reflective.

         Both of these are in play in the Gospel today.

         Now, apparently this Gospel reading is one that is considered difficult to preach on and a lot of preachers shy away from. If you’re a Biblical literalist and preach a text that talks about cutting off your hand and plucking out your eye, I can see how this would be difficult.

         I, however, am not a Biblical literalist. I know that allegory and analogies and even elaborating on the truth, were all very common literary techniques a few thousand years ago, and as such, they are written into Scripture. Also, the Bible isn’t a history book.

         So, please don’t go about plucking out eyes nor cutting off hands, your’s or those of others.

         Instead, please take a moment to consider what it is you think this Gospel reading is trying to get across? What is the point of Jesus’s teaching here?

         Let’s take a moment to consider this hear. Consider it a pop quiz on if you were paying attention in the Gospel reading! Feel free to chat on the zoom, or pop an answer into the chat! Here, pair up.

         What do you think this Gospel reading, this teaching of Christ, is attempting to teach?

          I think this reading is about:

understanding yourself and what motivates you;

considering how to master yourself and those parts of you that you might think are beyond your control;

how you treat people who are outside of your immediate circle;

being kind and gracious to those who are outside of your immediate circle;

to not harm people, nor to intentionally put stumbling blocks before them;

and, when something goes wrong, don’t pretend it’s fine!

         And, one more to remember: it’s not our differences that drive us apart, it’s our similarities and the hubris of believing that the way we are doing things is best.

         Driving around here is an opportunity to take a lot of deep breaths, and do our best to remember that we are one of many, not the only car on the road. At least for me. And while I think a lot of people have had come to Jesus moments while driving in and around Boston. So our homework this week is that when we see something happen on the road that makes us gasp, or cringe, or even tssk at someone, use that moment as an opportunity to take a deep breath and remember that we are all in this together.

         And if you drive this week and don’t have a moment like that, I encourage you to ask the people closest to you if you are, in fact, on of the people who drives in a way that makes others gasp. And then be better. And use a blinker.


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