April 1, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Mark 9:38-41.
John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.” Jesus replied, “Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us. Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.”
You can’t do that; you’re not one of us! It seems like we’re always trying to set ourselves apart from and over others. We jealously guard our territory and try to repel those who would encroach upon it. I’m always gratified to read about the disciples being shown how their old, accustomed ways of thinking work to keep the kingdom of God at bay. It catches me up short and makes me think about my unchallenged attitudes, beliefs, and values. The disciples were guilty of the same shortcomings and rigidity of thinking as me.
It’s interesting that this story isn’t told in the gospel that was written by the Johannine community. John who was described in his eponymous gospel as the one whom Jesus loved; the one who rested his head against Jesus’ chest at the last supper; John in whom Jesus entrusted his mother; John who was the first to believe in the resurrection. The Johannine community set itself apart from the Jewish community and set forth that its tenets about Jesus’ divinity were the “right” way to believe. It seems that Jesus didn’t succeed in getting his message in this story across to John.
It strikes me that Jesus was teaching his disciples about tolerance. I can imagine that this unnamed man who was casting out demons in Jesus’ name had witnessed Jesus doing the same and perhaps other healings as well. He was so enthralled by the power of this man Jesus that he thought he could invoke his name and thereby harness the same power to produce similar results. Apparently he was right! God desires to work through all of us to accomplish His ends. That’s why Jesus told his disciples not to stop the man. He and his disciples didn’t have the exclusive license on God’s healing power.
As soon as I begin to think that my way is the only way or the right way to think or act, I’m in trouble. I’m in trouble because it means that I’m placing myself above others, that I have a claim on God that supersedes anyone else’s. Barclay writes, “It is necessary to remember that truth is always bigger than any man’s grasp of it. No man can possible grasp all truth…..The basis of tolerance is simply the realization of the magnitude of the orb of truth….Intolerance is a sign both of arrogance and ignorance, for it is a sign that a man believes that there is no truth beyond the truth he sees.”
Many commentaries separate the last verse in this reading from the others. However, to me Jesus is just reemphasizing his point. Just as he told his disciples not to repudiate the man who exorcised in Jesus’ name; neither should they overlook or discount simple offers of hospitality and respite especially when done in recognition of their discipleship. They also are “for” Jesus. We all have been given different gifts and different opportunities to show our love for God by serving others, by ministering to others. One of us who does so is not better than another. All acts of love and service have the same value in God’s eyes.
Just as in the liturgy we are reminded that “He humbled himself,” I am to humble myself and not to imagine that I am superior to any other in any way. That’s what Jesus was teaching his disciples and what he’s teaching me today.