Whoever is not against us is for us. Whoever is not for me is against me. Both are in the Bible: Mark 9:40 & Matthew 12:30. And neither verse should be tossed around out of context. Today’s Daily Office reading from Mark 9 concerns the first verse. Jesus’ disciples tell him that they see someone casting out demons in His name and wonder if they should stop Him “because he wasn’t following us.”
I love the understated details in the gospel of Mark. He wasn’t following us. The one thing Christians throughout history have seemed to be more zealous about than following Jesus is policing the borders of who’s allowed to say that they’re Christian. The hard thing is that when people are doing things in Jesus’ name, they represent me, whether it’s something relatively benign like casting out demons or hateful and evil like screaming that God hates fags.
I often have a lot of trouble understanding how people on a journey of genuinely seeking after the heart of God could come to conclusions that are so different than mine. I used to assume that I was just wrong and rebellious. When you grow up moderate Southern Baptist, that’s generally your default assumption because the fundamentalists around you are so zealous and confident in their beliefs and they’ve figured out how to make the Bible fit each and every one of them so it’s hard to oppose them with more than just a hunch that they don’t seem to exude the heart of Christ. Now I have more confidence in what God has revealed to me because some things I just can’t deny any longer. And what was insecurity has turned into resentment against people who tried to tell me I wasn’t really a Christian or I wasn’t preaching the gospel.
Why are these people casting out demons in your name, Lord? Why do they experience miracles and answered prayers? Why are their churches thriving? But then when they open their mouths in the media, it doesn’t sound like You at all! This is where Jesus’ response frustrates the hell out of me: “Do not stop them, for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me.”
No, they’ll have all kinds of good things to say about You as a validation of themselves. They’ll “boast in your power” and “make you famous” as proof that they are your true disciples: “Jesus, you are so awesome for making us not like those other people.” But that doesn’t mean they won’t do evil to Your name with their presumptuous self-justifying arrogance.
And that’s where Jesus’ response is something like this: “Look, Morgan, I’m working with them, and I’m using even their worldly success as a means of grace in thousands of ways that you can’t see. And by the way when people me about that exasperating cocky young Methodist blogger casting out ideological demons in my name, I tell them that I’m working with you too even though you frustrate the hell out of me sometimes. One day, you’re all going to sit together at my table.”
I don’t know how we’re going to share that table, Lord, but I know You died to make it happen, and the fact that I’m not ready for it means that I still have a long way to walk before I get to heaven.