“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.” (Mark 9:41)
The passage above came up in our reading this past weekend at Connexion. I have to admit, it is pretty familiar to me. In fact, at a previous church, we took this literally, bringing a cooler of free bottled ice water to the local drum circle on Friday nights for the community. However, as I was reading it this time, I realized that I may have been reading this wrong all along.
When we read stories, it is very common for us to identify with the protagonist. We want to see ourselves as the hero – the one who wins the battle, the one who gets the girl (or the guy), the one who conquers the enemy. However, there are many times that we are not intended to be the hero . . . and this challenges our traditional interpretations.
Take this little passage, for example. In context, the disciples are concerned that there is a rogue exorcist casting out demons in Jesus’ name, but he is “not one of us.” He is not a part of the band of disciples that followed Jesus. Therefore, they feel compelled to stop his ministry of healing. He is, after all, one of the “THEM” (not “US”). Jesus responds by saying, “Whoever is not against us, is for us” and goes on to quote this little proverb cited above.
Now, typically, we read that and our brains respond, “Yes, I should meet peoples’ needs. I should give water where it is needed and show hospitality to others.” While that is fine and good (we could definitely find other passages to support showing hospitality to others), this is not what the passage says. The readers/listeners of Mark’s community aren’t intended to identify with the person giving water. No, Jesus said, “whoever gives you a cup of water…” In this passage, we are recipients of hospitality, not the givers.
Now, that changes things a bit. Is Jesus really saying that regardless of what another person believes (or doesn’t believe) . . . regardless of what whether they identify with the community of Christ-followers or not . . . regardless of whether they are members of a local church or synagogue . . . if they extend hospitality, they will be rewarded? It sure seems so.
Maybe . . . just maybe . . . this passage is extolling the value of orthopraxy (right practice) over orthodoxy (right belief). Maybe Jesus is saying something about the importance of living rightly (treating others well, loving others, extending grace and kindness) over the importance of belonging to right community. Maybe he is extended the borders of who is in and who is out of this community. Maybe this text is a little more shocking that we thought at first glance.
When we look at stories through new perspectives, we find that it often upends our traditional interpretations. We find that it challenges our preconceived ideas. We find that that word of God truly is “living and active,” not merely a static of collection of ancient texts. I pray that we might have eyes to see, ears to hear, and lives that dare to follow!
*Try this interpretative tool out with the familiar passage of the “Parable of the Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:25-37). Jesus is telling this story to a group of Jewish men (and a lawyer, in particular). With whom in the story would they identify? How does this challenge our traditional interpretation and understanding of this text?