By Brian Kirk
What to choose? What to choose? So much is going on in this piece of the lectionary that I think one would have to narrow it down to a portion of the passage. If there is a theme that might draw it all together, it could be the theme of "community."
In the opening text, we have the disciples reportedly coming to Jesus to tattle on some other folks who are healing in his name. Boring, in The People's New Testament Commentary, argues that this is a clearly post-Easter reference. The disciples' claim that this exorcist "was not following us" (rather than using "you" referring to Jesus) suggests a description of Mark's historical context and the struggle in the early Church over who has authority -- who is "in" and who is "out." The renegade exorcist likely then refers to other Christian groups who were acting independently. Interestingly, Jesus' reply seems to suggest that as long as they are doing his work, they are just as much a part of the community.
In fact, note how inclusive Mark is when he has Jesus say "Whoever is not against us is for us." There is a world of difference between this version of the saying and the one we find in Matthew which reads "Whoever is not for us is against us." They sound similar, but the meaning couldn't be more different when it comes to seeing those who don't practice/live/believe the way we do as either enemy or neighbor.
The next part of the text deals with care for the "little ones" and a string of unconnected sayings about getting rid of body parts that might cause one to stumble. The reference here to "little ones" is not likely about children but rather people who are new to the faith or who have little authority. It's clear that these vulnerable ones are to be cared for by the community. This theme is carried over in the reference to cutting off body parts, the "body" here likely a metaphor for the community of faith. We have a responsibility to care for each other (and to do away with those practices that harm or cause division). And if the community extends beyond our congregation and includes even those we consider outside our boundaries (e.g. the exorcist mentioned previously) then do we not also have a responsibility to the community of our neighborhood, our city, our country, and the world?
Finally, the reference to salt also connects with the theme of community. We are to have salt (a distinctiveness about ourselves) and yet still live in peace as community. A reminder, perhaps, that faith is not ultimately a personal and inward practice but a communal effort in which we add to the flavor of those gathered around us as we strive to live in peace with all God's children.
(Note: The James passage for this Sunday deals with many of these same themes of community and caring for one another.)