1. There are possibly some “instructions” for the disciples. One is NOT TO BE QUICK in saying that anyone outside the group (of Jesus) is already against Jesus. In Mk it is recorded that the disciples tried to prevent someone doing exorcism “because he does not follow us” (Mk.9/38). Jesus then told his disciples not to prevent the man because “whoever is not against us is for us” (9/40).
2. The second instruction is to feel assured that even anyone outside the group “who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ” will surely not lose a reward (9/41).
3. The third instruction is for the “little ones”, that is, the fragile, among the disciples. It is prohibited to force the vulnerable to sin. It is a serious offense to make them sin. These “little ones” will be led away from their belief. Jesus uses the classical image of penalty against the offenders: “…better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea” (9/42).
4. The fourth instruction is for “you”…the disciple directly addressed by Jesus. Jesus speaks of the danger that threatens each one for the enemy against communion with God lies also within the disciple. It is better to enter life maimed, crippled and blind “than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna, where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’” (9/47). Indirectly this raises the question of what the disciple is willing to give up in order to remain with God.
5. The word “Gehenna” is intriguing. There the worm does not die and there is a fire that does not extinguish. There is torment without end. It is said that south of the city of Jerusalem was a place to where the city garbage was thrown. That place was called Hinnom (Hebrew) or Gehenna (in Greek). So there was an opposition between Jerusalem and the garbage dump area. Jerusalem symbolized the glory of the just. The dump area was the valley of the dead where the worms ate the corpses. As for the image of the fire, it is said, by Bible experts, to represent the refusal to adhere to God.
6. There is a flow: from the “outside the group” to the “inside the group”.
7. The disciples were angry against anyone “outside” but behaving “in the name of Jesus”. Do they have the “K”… the “karapatan”—the “right? Then there are those possibly “outside” but sympathizing with those “inside”.
8. How are those people “outside” situated? What is curious is that Jesus himself shows that even those “inside” can be causes of sin—they can make the fragile sin. Being “inside” does not guarantee being “so good and righteous”. So to be “inside” is to be possibly maimed, crippled and blind. Imagine a community of handicapped people—yes, handicapped by “in life”.
9. Ok, we need to understand the “literary style” of the story and the images and other matters—like worms and fire. But one point is worth noting. Notice that Jesus recognizes the “outsider” exorcist. Do not prevent him. We are together!
10. I have always been wondering about how this fits in the contemporary call for “inter-religious dialogue” which, for Asian bishops, is part of mission INTER-GENTES (and not so ad gentes). The Church has been so accused of being so “inside” and arrogant and imperialistic.
11. Jesus did not invite the Church to be arrogant and imperialistic. Mission is not for the self-glorification of the Church. It is to share the impact of having encountered Christ.
12. Over the course of time in mission theology, from Vatican II to today, we can notice an evolution—a strong effort to address the problem of Church arrogance and shift to a more dialogical Church, possibly maimed, crippled and blind. The terminology of Vatican II, for example, had the term “Church implantation” to mean geographical and territorial installation of a hierarchy and a structure. The terminology of the newer documents does not use this term anymore and new theology speaks of the Church as a “discipleship” motivated by intimacy with Christ. And add to this is the effort of mission theologians to recognize the reality and positive status of religious pluralism without compromising the faith in Christ. It is unfair to make a sweeping accusation today that in terms of mission and dialogue the Church continues to be imperialistic.
13. In a recent audience with persons engaged in inter-religious dialogue Pope Francis spoke of dialogue as “walking with” people of other religious traditions addressing the problems facing humanity today. This is no longer the language of the arrogant.