Read: Mark 9:38-50
Meditation: “The Paradox of Generosity”
Today’s lesson seems to go from one extreme to another—from leniency with those who are not “inside the circle” of apostolic fellowship, to severity with respect to self-discipline. The first part of the passage makes it look like Jesus is soft; the second part gives the impression he is hard. Is he inconsistent? If not, what’s going on?
I began to formulate an answer some years ago when I decided to read through the Gospels and see where Jesus is actually “negative.” I found that his spirit is more critical with those who ought to know better (e.g. the religious leaders) and more gentle with those who do not know what the ways of God actually are (e.g. the sinners).
In today’s passage, Jesus is exhorting the apostles not to use their relationship with Christ as a license to exclude those who may not be part of the “in crowd.” That is, he is calling for a gentle spirit toward people who may not follow Jesus exactly the way we do. That’s a good word to hear when we so quickly and easily play “one-upmanship” with each other in the Body of Christ.
But then, Jesus turns to anyone and everyone who claims to be leading this group or that movement. Jesus says that we must never play fast-and-loose with sin or the Gospel. There will be severe penalty for anyone who puts a stumbling block in front of someone else—severe consequences when we become so focused on other people that we stop keeping watch over our hands, feet, and eyes.
Jesus is saying, in effect, “Loosen up” and “Listen up.” We are to loosen up and reduce the barriers between ourselves and others, recognizing (as Jesus put it), “Whoever is not against us is for us” (v. 40).
But as we do this, we must listen up and never allow a spirit of gentleness to cause us to excuse our sinful ways. This is the paradox of generosity—flexibility and fellowship with those outside our community; firmness and faithfulness with ourselves. Both ways are the way of grace.