July 30, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Luke 9:49-50.
Then John said in reply, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow in our company. Jesus said to him, “Do not prevent him, for whoever is not against you is for you.”
This comes right after the disciples were arguing among themselves about who was the greatest and Jesus told them the least among them was the greatest. John didn’t quite get the point Jesus was trying to make. It’s like John was saying that at least they were greater than someone who was not part of their little band and, worse than that, who was invoking Jesus’ name without authority. Fortunately, Jesus was and is incredibly patient — most of time!
Jesus’ response is a reminder to John and the other disciples that they are not the only ones given the spirit of God to heal and cast out demons (which they had been unable to do a few verses earlier!). As recounted in Numbers, Moses had encountered the same situation when Joshua complained that two men who had not been anointed were prophesying in camp. “But Moses answered him, ‘Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!'”
Why is it so important that we set ourselves apart? Why do we have the need to feel superior? Why do we feel the necessity to be exclusionary? It was an essential part of the Jews’ religious heritage and culture. Once again Jesus was turning accepted practice upside down and rejecting reactionary judgement. As Luke Timothy Johnson writes in The Gospel of Luke, “These would-be leaders of the people still have much to learn: they are not in charge but under a charge.” The answer to my questions? Because we want to be in control. We don’t want to let God be in control. We don’t really want to believe that God created us all and loves us all — everyone last one of us. And He uses all of us who haven’t been converted by evil as His instruments in the world to bring about His kingdom. We really love control –the illusion of control — more than we love God.
Don’t judge others who are doing a good thing. Be open minded. Be tolerant, welcoming, and accepting. Above all, be humble servants of God and remember that we don’t have an exclusive claim to God’s spirit. Pretty straightforward stuff.
Our new Pope Francis made headlines around the world yesterday. Why? Because he made a simple response to a reporter’s question about the “gay lobby” in the Vatican, about gay priests. “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?” Seems to me that he took his line directly from these words of Jesus to John. Pope Francis also responded to a question about one of his advisors who was alleged to have had a gay encounter. The Associated Press reported, “He took journalists to task for reporting on the matter, saying it concerned issues of sin, not crimes like sexually abusing children. And when someone sins and confesses, he said, God not only forgives — he forgets. ‘We don’t have the right to not forget.'”
A Pope who actually talks like Jesus! We desperately need to hear the words of Jesus in a world that has become so sectarian, so violent, so intolerant, so judgmental, so hateful. But what we need even more desperately is to heed those words. Just as Jesus hoped John and the other disciples would do.