Mark 9:38-50

Commentary Excerpt by Tom Boomershine

This story and its impact are definitively shaped by the meaning of one word: skandalizo, scandala. This word is a verbal thread that runs through the story. In the NRSV it is translated as "stumble": "If your hand causes you to stumble" and "If your foot causes you to stumble." Scandala is translated as stumbling stone or block. "If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones." These sayings refer to the exorcist who was casting out demons in Jesus' name and the disciples forbid him. A preferable translation builds on the meaning of skandalizo as "to be scandalized, to be offended."The scandalon was a stone that a person stumbled on and then cursed. It was what caused that person to be scandalized. Thus a scandal in English means an event or action that causes offense.

In this case it refers to the disciples being offended and scandalized by this other exorcist who was casting out demons in Jesus' name. Therefore, what needs to be communicated in telling this story is the irritation of the disciples. They were really ticked at that other exorcist. John's statement needs to communicate their offense: "Teacher, we saw someone else casting out demons and we stopped him because he wasn't following us."The NRSV translates this as “tried to stop him.” There is no implication in the Greek that they only “tried.” The tone of John here is one who is proud of a successful defense.

Jesus' response is, in effect, "Don't stop him." Then he goes on to explain what one should do in order not to be scandalized by other people who follow other people—who are competitors in one way or another. Jesus is talking about how you deal with people who are other than “us,” but who are doing basically the same work, the same things.They are other people in the religious tradition.

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