Watch out of for the green-ey’d monster, we still tell the kids sometimes, when they’re busy wanting something that someone else has, thinking what they have is better than what they have. Kind of like this extra set of green eyes that grow out of their heads always looking for something they don’t have.
I didn’t realize it but the idea of the green ey’d monster was first put in print by Shakespeare in Othello: “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; It is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock.” Oftentimes the Renaissance writers paired emotions with colors like green and yellow for envy and jealousy, relating it to nasty, icky kinds of things, like associating it with the color of bile, that darkish green-yellow fluid discharged by the liver that sometimes comes up in our own throats. Shakespeare is amazing for vivid descriptions that stick with you.
Just like today, when we hear the Gospel reading (Mark 9:38-50), filled with vivid descriptions about cutting hands off and tearing out eyeballs. It’s meant to shock and catch hold of us, get our attention because as hard as the cure might seem the disease is far worse leading us into that place away from God where the maggots never die and the fire is never quenched.
Let’s see what started this whole conversation:
“John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” (vs. 38)
This little sentence is so short it’s easy to miss what was happening. On the surface it sounds pious enough, Teacher Jesus, we were defending your honor, someone was using your name! But that wasn’t really their concern was it? Look at the last line, what we’re they really concerned about? We tried to stop him, because he was not following JESUS? No, because he was not following US! The disciples were all worked up because this guy wasn’t following them, he wasn’t one of them. You see the green-eye’d monster poking out there, this guy has something that only we should have, that we want for ourselves. So, now with this extra set of green-eye balls sticking out of their foreheads, all worked up, they want Jesus to fix it so they get to be the only chosen ones again.
Let me give you an example to picture this better. You see someone on the street that collapses and needs CPR. You of course know CPR because you went to Monica’s CPR Class and you’re ready to help. So while you’re there doing compressions, someone runs up to you and physically tries to stop you, shouting hey, you didn’t go to Ted’s CPR Class like we did so you’ve got to stop! It’s the same CPR whether you went to Monica’s or Ted’s class, but they’re trying to stop you by getting caught up in the wrong thing.
It’s interesting to notice that there is one person in particular the disciples aren’t talking about at all, is not even on their radar they are so green with envy; the poor soul who was demon-possessed, (that needed CPR) that the other guy was trying to help get. The disciples didn’t even spare a moment to care about the plight of this poor person that needed the kind of help that could only come in Jesus’ name. It’s like their huge green eye balls where getting in the way, so they couldn’t see the very real hurt happening right in front of them they were so caught up in themselves. They were actually keeping the demon-posessed person stuck in the sinful and fallen condition he was in. This idea forms the heart of the rest of the conversation, about what we let get between us and helping others in the name of Jesus.
I love this next verse. “For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.” (vs. 41)
This is how it should have been, you know that guy you were trying to stop who was helping this demon-possessed person? It’s hard work preaching the Gospel, calling out demons, hard on the throat man. Don’t stop him, grab him some ice water, help with the compressions, give him a hand!
In the next verses, the tone Jesus uses changes quite a bit because now he is talking about the consequences that can eventually come with this attitude.
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. (vs. 42)
“Cause to sin,” comes from the greek word σκανδαλίσῃ, root of our English word scandal, meaning to cause to stumble. This can be actively putting something in someone’s way, an obstacle that makes that person sin (do this sinful thing or you’ll get fired) Or actively doing something to someone else that involves them in sin (participation in sexual sins to provoking someone to anger). Or passively causing them to stumble, like when you’re big green eyeballs get in the way of helping someone in need. We might walk away from these kinds of situations with an indifferent kind of attitude, like it’s not my fault or not my problem or they wanted it too, so what’s the big deal; but Jesus won’t let us get off the hook so easily. Think of the two greatest commands that sum up everything else: Love the Lord your God with all you are and love your neighbor as yourself. Our neighbor is our responsibility in God’s eyes, we might say they were asking for it or they wanted it, but that doesn’t take the responsibility off our shoulders as Christians to protect our neighbor, child or adult, from harm and sin. A good thought to live by is “do no harm and help when it is within your power.”
To become a stumbling block has such serious consequences that Jesus says, it would be better to toss a stone around your neck (not a little one but one of those huge man size mill stones) and drown in the sea because ultimately this leads you to the place where the maggots don’t die and the fire is never quenched, that is being apart from God eternally. This sounds like harsh imagery but think about what we become when we are a stumbling block to others over and over again, picture what someone might look like spiritually.
Start with those huge green eyeballs sticking out of the forehead always swiveling around looking for something they want that someone else has. The mouth seems small, inviting, tempting but it has razor sharp teeth inside. They have huge hands with claws always grabbing what they want but a shriveled and small heart on the inside that has forgotten how to feel. Spikes growing all over their body to try and keep God and real relationships away but they only end up hurting themselves.
Have you ever seen someone really, really lose their temper, have we ever looked in the mirror when we may have been like that. What do we resemble, one of the saints in heaven or something else? The spiritual realities can’t always be seen on the outside, but sometimes we catch glimpses.
Becoming spiritually, something not human anymore, but more closely resembling the demons of hell and earning by their own decisions a place with the demons that they’ve become. This happens at the judgment of the soul upon death and the final judgment to come on the last day, everyone will be salted with fire and what is really going on in the inside will be revealed, whether in faith you reflect Jesus and become more like Him or in disbelief you reflect sin and become more like the demons.
To fix the problem takes a drastic kind of surgery that only God can do. It involves showing us how we really are, apart from God and in our sin, green eyes and all. In faith, repenting and watching as bit by bit God takes off all of those parts, whether it be those green eye’s of envy or the grabby hands, that make us less than we should be, less than He created us to be. All of those things that we let get in the way of us loving God and ffour neighbor.
This divine surgery, that happens every time we hear God’s Word, every time we receive Jesus’ body and blood, every time we confess and receive God’s Forgiveness, is not about only taking things off but giving to us as well.
A heart that sees the need of others first before our own desires; mind that has the wisdom of faith that doesn’t participate in those things that will hurt others; hands that are quick to help and a mouth that speaks words of peace; an openness to receive the love of God and a willingness to love our neighbors. Becoming by God’s hand the kind of people that reflect who God is in our lives.
God himself taking off what we have added, so that day by day, through His Word and the Sacraments, we reflect both on the inside and the out the love of God in Jesus