AGAINST US OR FOR US? – Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 21, Year B; Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B (RC)

September 26, 2021

Revised Common Lectionary
Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22 or Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29
Psalm 124 or Psalm 19:7-14
James 5:13-20
Mark 9:38-50



Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Numbers 11:25-29
Psalm 19:8, 10, 12-13, 14 (9a)
James 5:1-6
Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

The disciples of Jesus just can’t catch a break. Immediately before the Gospel passage we hear today, Jesus had found them arguing about who among them was the greatest. It wasn’t the first time that they had missed the meaning of discipleship. In a stern response, Jesus sets them straight: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all” (Mk 9:35).

Ouch. That whole who-is-the-greatest thing just won’t fly in the Jesus community.

The disciples’ cluelessness seems to know no bounds. In today’s Gospel reading John informs Jesus that they had witnessed someone outside their chummy little group who was casting out demons in his name, then proudly reassures him that they had tried to put a stop to these unauthorized acts of mercy.

Once again Jesus responds by calling them out—this time for their short-sighted, mistaken notion of who’s in and who’s out. They had to be shocked to hear him declare, “Whoever is not against us is for us” (9:40).

Wait—isn’t that supposed to be the other way around? Both Matthew and Luke (but not Mark) quote Jesus as saying, “Whoever is not with me is against me” (Mt 12:30; Lk 11:23), but in a very different context. In those instances, he was speaking of divided allegiances and defending himself against charges of somehow drawing on demonic powers to cast out demons. In the passage we hear today, he is expressing the all-embracing character of God’s reign.

The disciples failed to consider that they had encountered someone who was on their side, someone who recognized and drew on the power of Jesus’ name. The narrowmindedness of the disciples had become a “stumbling block” to the mission. In the Jesus community, no one can claim to be the greatest and no one who is willing to take up the mission can be discounted or discarded.

There’s an important message here for leaders who jealously guard their prerogatives and for churches and communities that promote themselves as superior to others. We follow the same Christ. We have been called to the same mission. There’s room for everyone who wants to follow and serve. “Whoever is not against us is for us” (Mk 9:40).

A Hymn for Today: “How Clear Is Our Vocation, Lord”

We who follow Jesus today can take heart from stories of Jesus’ first disciples. Although they often got it wrong, Jesus continued to lead and guide them. British hymn writer Fred Pratt Green, FHS (1903-2000), here gives us words to express dependence on Christ to strengthen us for our vocation in the same way, even when we fail or find it difficult. This text was written with C. Hubert H. Parry’s beautifully lyrical tune REPTON in mind.

How clear is our vocation, Lord,
when once we heed your call
to live according to your word
and daily learn, refreshed, restored,
that you are Lord of all
and will not let us fall.

But if, forgetful, we should find
your yoke is hard to bear;
if worldly pressures fray the mind
and love itself cannot unwind
its tangled skein of care:
our inward life repair.

We marvel how your saints became
in hindrances more sure:
whose joyful virtues put the shame
the casual way we wear your name,
and by our faults obscure
your power to cleanse and cure.

In what you give us, Lord, to do,
together or alone,
in old routines or ventures new,
may we not cease to look to you:
the cross you hung upon,
all you endeavored, done.

Text: Fred Pratt Green, 1981, © 1982, Hope Publishing Co. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857
Tune: REPTON; C. Hubert H. Parry, 1888

Image Credit: Looking for Peace, Eduardo Kobra, 2013, Highland Youth Center, Los Angeles, California

“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.

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