RCL Year B, Proper 21 (Alternate Readings)
Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, and 24-29, Psalm 19:7-14, James 5:13-20, Saint Mark 9:38-50

A little pointedly and rather directly, I want to tell you my philosophy. It is this. “God is in heaven and providentially governing the earth and all creation. And we better get used to it.”

I believe this philosophy is supported by the Holy Scriptures. When Adam and Eve eat of the Tree in the Garden, they have not gotten used to God’s governance. They have disobeyed him, and they have put themselves in his place. As the Prayer Book eirenically puts it, “From the beginning, human beings have misused their freedom and made wrong choices.”[1] When Solomon and his son Rehoboam, when Jeroboam, his grandson Omri, and his great-grandson Ahab, when they all and their successors, sacrifice to the gods of the Canaanites, they do what is evil in the sight of the Lord; they misuse their freedom, they make wrong choices, and they put themselves in the place of God.

Similarly, when Peter rebukes Jesus when he makes the first prediction of his passion and resurrection, when the disciples argue with one another about who is the greatest, they make wrong choices, and they put themselves in the place of God.

And in today’s Gospel, when John tries to stop someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name, because he was not following Jesus and his disciples, he commits the old sin, traceable through Israel’s history, the old sin of putting himself in the place of God, who is providentially governing the earth and all creation. John wants not merely a franchise but a monopoly. A denomination or two have tried this with some sketchy results.

Jesus answers by commanding John and the other disciples to get rid of their hand, their foot, or their eye, if any of these should cause them to commit the old sin, the sin that passes from generation to generation, the sin of putting themselves in the place of God. For just as salt preserves food and fire refines gold, the disciples and we will be preserved and refined so that we shall be God’s and God’s alone.

Accepting this and getting used to this can be very hard. We all would like to skip the sacrifice of Good Friday and go right to the joy of Easter, but God has made the world and us different from that. We all need to grow, and to grow we need to use every reading from the Scriptures, every prayer, and every celebration of the Eucharist to enable us to grow into the human being God created us to be. Choose life, and make right choices. Choose the truth which will set you free.

We said in the Psalm: “Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not get dominion over me;  then shall I be whole and sound, and innocent of a great offense.”[2]


[1] BCP, page 845.

[2] Psalm 19:13.