Psalm 124 has a line in it I really like. Overall, the Psalm is about how God rescues the Old Testament nation of Israel over and over again. It is a celebration of God’s presence and mercy. The Psalmist says: “We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken and we have escaped. Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 124:7-8).
I can relate to the Psalmist because I feel the same way about God.
I, too, want to celebrate God’s presence and mercy. Like the Psalmist, I feel like my relationship with God makes my life better. I, too, sense that the snare is broken.
For the most part.
In my humanity, I’m still susceptible to being snagged in snares.
One of those snares is as old as religion itself: I think My Way of being in relationship with God is “The Right Way.” Maybe even, “The Only Right Way.”
Jesus has to deal with this among his disciples, so I guess I’m in good company.
The Apostle John comes and reports to Jesus, “we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us” (Mark 9:38). In other words, “I saw someone doing something allegedly in your name, but I didn’t feel he was qualified so I told him to knock it off.”
John may have been expecting a pat on the back, an attaboy, or a thank you. Instead, Jesus says, more or less, “John, don’t be a stumbling block. That’s the worst thing you can be.”
Jesus tells John that if he isn’t going to be gracious, open, and hospitable to those who—to use John’s phrase “aren’t following us”—well, then he’s put a stumbling block before them.
And it would be better for John to hang a great millstone (not a small one, not a personal-sized one, A GREAT MILLSTONE), around his neck and be thrown into The Sea than for him to be a stumbling block for another person.
In mobster movies, this is known as Sleeping With The Fishes.
If John is going to be a stumbling block, he might as well sleep with the fishes.
Jesus brings his point home with some classic hyperbole, “got a hand or a foot that’s making you sin? Cut it off! Got an eye that’s leading you astray? Pluck it out!”
I can’t ignore how all of Jesus’s words have me point back to myself.
Jesus doesn’t say, “if your neighbor’s hand makes your neighbor stumble, cut it off.” Or if your neighbor’s foot makes your neighbor stumble, cut it off. Or if your neighbor’s eye makes her stumble, pluck it out for her.
No. Just like Jesus tells us to worry about the plank in our own eye (Matthew 7:3), he says here to worry about our own sin.
When confronted by the Apostle John with information about a stranger doing exorcisms. Jesus says, “John, worry about your ministry, not someone else’s. Make sure you aren’t a stumbling block. Make sure your hands, feet, and eyes aren’t separating you from God.”
This is a snare for me, just as it was a snare for John and others.
I know what it’s like to compare myself and my church and my denomination with that church over there. I’ve said to God a time or two, “Um. Hey, Jesus, they aren’t following us.”
I tend to dismiss churches that refuse to ordain women, require re-Baptism, or claim their view of the Bible is without error. I also find it hard to relate to folks from churches that dismiss Biblical scholarship and archaeology.
And yet, I know that when I point at someone else, there are three fingers pointing back at me.
This encounter between John and Jesus is a reminder to get myself in order.
I do well to remember what Jesus told John: “no one who does a deed of power in the name of Jesus will be able soon afterward to speak evil. Whoever is not against Jesus is for Jesus.”
Being frustrated by the witness of other Christians is a stumbling block, a snare for me.
But, my “help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.” I look forward to rejoicing like the Psalmist that “the snare is broken and we have escaped.”
What about you? What are your stumbling blocks? Is there a snare would you like to see broken?
More Like This From Beth: