“Who is for Jesus”
In Mark 9:38-50 Jesus continue to teach his disciples about the implications of following him. John tries to stop somebody who is not one of the group from using Jesus’ name to drive out an evil spirit. Jesus shows him that what the person had done showed that he was following him already. A true disciple of Jesus must never believe that only the members of his group, or his movement or his Church belong to Jesus and are ‘saved’. Wherever we see people doing good, healing others, liberating them from any kind of spiritual or social oppression, the Spirit of Jesus is at work.
“Jesus teaches his disciples”
The Gospel of today comes after the transfiguration of Jesus, witnessed by Peter, James and John (Mk 9:2-8). Jesus is now travelling through Galilee, but Mark tells us that he does not want people to know because he is instructing his disciples. He will tell them again about his coming suffering, death and resurrection which they miss completely once again, and he will have to take time to instruct them what it means to be first in the Kingdom of God and how they should welcome him, the messenger of the Kingdom.
This scene is very important in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus never asked what people thought about him. Now he does. He must teach the disciples to understand him better and especially to understand what type of Messiah he is and what type of disciples they are supposed to be. He is a Messiah who will suffer death but who will rise and they, his disciples, will have to follow the way of the cross too. As the blind man who learned to see only gradually so they too will only slowly come to understand who Jesus is.
Today’s Gospel reports something that happened while Jesus was on the non-Jewish side of the lake of Galilee in a place referred to as the Decapolis, that is Ten Cities. It was a region that was very influenced by the Greeks, who were a people from another culture. A deaf and dumb man is brought to Jesus who heals him by touch and word. The healed man now hears and speaks and is told not to tell anyone who Jesus is. In spite of this, the new spreads.
For the past five weeks, the Gospels have been taken from chapter six of the Gospel John, Jesus’ teaching about the bread fo life. Today we return to chapter seven of the Gospel of Mark and we discover what, in the eyes of Jesus, true religion is all about. For the Pharisees, the emphasis was on the observation of the law both written and oral. For Jesus, however, what matters is the heart. More external observance without a corresponding movement of the heart does not please God. We are invited to see what is really important for our lives.
This is the final section of Jesus’ teaching after the multiplication of loaves and fishes. His words have been difficult to understand, and his hearers have been reacting to them. The decisive moment has come. Jesus’ talk of their eating his body is too much for some because they take it literally. For them, Jesus is making an impossible demand on them and so they decide to follow him no more.
The twelve, who also find his words difficult to understand, continue to trust in him and to follow him. Nobody hears the message of the kingdom as preached by Jesus can remain indifferent to it.
Jesus fed the people and spoke about a more important bread coming down from heaven. Now Jesus affirms clearly that the life-giving bread he has been speaking about is himself. He invites those who are listening to him to eat his flesh and drink his blood that they might live now and be raised up on the last day. This is the decisive moment in Jesus’ speech. His words are so shocking and challenging that the people have to decide whether to continue to follow him or to leave him altogether. Jesus insists forcefully on the need to eat his body and drink his blood. How will the people respond? How do we respond?
In his words after the multiplication of the loaves and the fish, Jesus proclaimed: “I am the bread of life.” He invited his listeners to come to him and believe in him so that they might have the kind of life that God always wanted for them. The people cannot believe that he has come down from heaven. They know his mother, Mary and foster father, Joseph. Knowing his human origin prevents them from believing in his divine origin. Jesus does not try to make his difficult message easier but repeats that he is the living bread come down from heaven. But to understand and accept who Jesus really is, a person must be drawn by the Father. Faith in Jesus is a gift from God.