The Gospel for the 26th Sunday in ordinary time (Mark 9:38-48) tells us that Jesus discussed a two-fold message with his disciples, namely, working in Jesus’ name and reward and punishment in the after life.
The first part of the message was “working in Jesus’ name.” To “work in someone’s name” means that the work was done with the implied authority of that person.
The disciple John raises the problem. “Teacher, someone is driving out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him because he does not follow us.” Note the key words in this complaint: “you” and “us.”
In John’s eyes these words of necessity belong together. But from Jesus’ point of view, one cancels out the us, because as he says in the Gospel reading, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” (Mark 9:40) So he tells the disciples to leave the man alone.
In other words, it is the Holy Spirit who provides the “authority” and not the institution. Whoever is not against Jesus is, by supposition, for him.
The second part of Jesus’ message to his disciples is “reward and punishment in the afterlife.” It was becoming clear to the disciples that being a follower of Jesus could well result in suffering, betrayal and death as was true in the case of Jesus himself. So, Jesus explained to his disciples that what you do in this life will affect what will happen in the after life.
If you do good things in this life, good things will happen to you in the next life. For example, “…Whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.” (Mark 9:41)
Jesus was serious in the sense of good behavior especially for anyone who would be preaching in his name. Thus when he spoke of bad things his followers might do, he emphasized the point by speaking in hyperbole. This means that in order to get a point across one emphasizes it by virtue of exaggeration. What does this mean?
We often do it ourselves. For instance, when I tell someone, “I told you a million times not to do that.” In fact, it may have been only two or three time, but by exaggerating the number there is the likelihood the person will be more easily convinced.
The three body parts that Jesus discusses are: hand, foot, and eye. If the hand or foot is a cause of sin, cut it off. If the eye is a cause of sin, pluck it out. These are hyperbolic ways of dealing with sins. The hand is often an instrument of sin (e.g. stealing). The feet are means of transport to get you to commit the sin. And the eye provides the source of temptation.
What is it that the Gospel reading can tell us? First of all, because of our Baptism, we are disciples of Jesus and have the responsibility to speak and act in his name. So our words and actions are very important in order for others to make a judgement about us.
Secondly, our speech and behavior in this life will definitely affect us in the next life. By speaking hyperbolically, Jesus most likely convinced his listeners that hands, feet, and eyes would be more effective by being of service to others rather than by giving them bad example. Being of service to others would probably mean being hyperbolic in our own self judgement. After all, we claim do things in Jesus’ name.