Mark 9:38-50 is a strange passage. At first reading, it appears to be a collection of disconnected sayings and anecdotes tied together by an arbitrary string of keywords highlighted below. Mark may have indeed received these sayings as stand-alone logia. Together, though, they answer the question, “Who was the real threat to God’s work in the life of Christ, and to the community that formed the seed of the coming kingdom?” It wasn’t the tangentially connected or the marginally aligned, those who saw and responded to only to part of what God was doing in Jesus. It wasn’t even really the evil men who would put Jesus to death, for God promised to raise his messiah from the grave. God’s victory over evil is certain.
No, the threat that most concerned Jesus was the internal threat. Those who followed the worst examples of religious piety were concerned only with themselves. There were believers within the messiah’s own fellowship who aspired to worldly greatness. Moreover, some members of the Christian community were leading their brothers and sisters astray, taking them away from the saving life of faith and causing them to fall.
How they were causing their brothers and sisters to fall, Jesus does not say. Was it false teaching? Was it worldliness, a lack of commitment or setting a bad example? Was it hypocrisy or insincerity? Was it a lack of love or a failure to build a fellowship that incorporated all believers? All can be deadly.
If the church’s mission is to seek and save the lost, every apostasy – every case of falling away from the kingdom – is a kind of mission failure (one which the church should never seek to remedy by force or threats).
Instead of looking at the threats outside the church, Jesus’ followers should look at their own lives and the quality of the fellowship within their own community.