“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.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us. 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 9:38-41
The disciples were reeling with embarrassment. They had been caught. Thinking Jesus was unaware, they each took turns in an ego-fest. “I can do this!” So what, I can do that!” “I’m the best!” No, you can’t be, because I am!” Or a conversation something resembling this took place. Imagine their surprise, when Jesus asks, “What were you disputing among yourselves?” Amazingly, these who were so eager to proclaim their greatness on the road to Capernaum, now utter only silence. They had been caught. How does Jesus respond to their silence? He uses their prideful argument as opportunity for a lesson in humility. He states emphatically, “Do you want to be the greatest? Then you must become the least. You must become the servant of these you want to be greater than.” Jesus aggravates His paradox even more by placing a child in their midst and instructing that His greatest disciples receive the little children (a culture shock in the first century). Mark 9:33-37
John obviously doesn’t like where this lesson is going, so he tries to change the subject. He seeks Jesus’ applause for his boldness to stand against a man they encountered who was casting out demons. The abrupt transition between Jesus’ lesson and John’s interjection should engender a sense of disruption. Jesus is teaching the importance of humility, meekness, and love. John interrupts Him with an arrogant display of judgment, resentment, and antagonism. It’s also probable that there’s a hint of jealousy found in his words. This encounter resembles an event recorded in the life of Moses from the eleventh chapter of Numbers. There, a young man runs to Moses complaining about Eldad and Medad prophesying in the camp. Even Joshua encourages Moses to restrain the men. Moses, however, says, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would His Spirit upon them.” Jesus’ words are different, but it seems His attitude toward the one John is describing is much the same. In essence, He instructs John, “Let the man cast out demons; why did you try to stop him?” Jesus does not let John, or us for that matter, know whether the man was genuine. It’s not important for John’s sake.
What is important to Jesus is the condition of John’s heart and the motivation for his ministry.
How often am I just like John? Too often. John finds the negative side of the situation; Jesus sees it as a no-lose situation. He tells John, “The man is casting demons out in My name. He can’t very well speak bad of Me now, can he?” Jesus even makes the insinuation that the man might very well be on the home-team. This is speculative, but remember Elijah was unaware of seven thousand that had not bowed the knee to Baal. In any event, Jesus consigns his status as “not against us,” and therefore “with us.”
There is an anticipated attitude of tolerance in Jesus’ lesson. He emphasizes this by promising an inevitable reward for those who minister in His name even with the most menial of services, such as giving a drink of water. It’s not that every time someone uses the name, Jesus, we are to align with them and support their cause. It’s that our most natural reaction to anything that differs from our routine and standard is rejection without consideration. In this story, John showed no concern for those who were possessed by demons; only that this man was “not with us.”
If we want to see evidence of John’s folly in this present day, we need only look as far as me. As I said, I’m much like John in this story. Let someone comb their hair different or drive the wrong manufacturer’s car and they immediately make my list of “those to be cautious of.” Want to compound my distrust? Align with one of the disputed doctrines of the Bible differently than me. After all, everyone should know the forbidden fruit in the garden was an apple. Wasn’t it?
Jesus is teaching John there is a time for tolerance. Oh, we must stand firm on the authentic message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We cannot waver when a fundamental truth of the gospel is violated, but too often we find ourselves divided over unclear and obscure passages, allowing traditions and personal preferences to have priority over true needs of ministry.
Although against the grain of our reasoning, there is room in Jesus’ church for diversity. There are some issues that we can agree to disagree on without damaging the integrity of the Gospel. Trying to combat the futility of perfect conformity, an author once wrote:
“Believe as I believe, no more no less, That I am right, and no one else confess. Feel as I feel, think as I think, Eat what I eat, and drink what I drink. Look as I look, do always as I do, Then and only then, I’ll fellowship with you.”