Considering Mark 9:38-41 in light of current events.

When it comes to preaching, I’m normally not a lectionary kind of guy. I certainly understand the intent, and even the appeal (following a lectionary exposes people to a broad swath of scripture and it can force preachers to deal with topics and texts they might otherwise avoid); it’s just not my preferred style. However, when a friend of mine from another, more liturgical tradition asked me to fill in at his church this Sunday, I figured there was no reason not to preach from the prescribed lectionary text. When in Rome, right? Well, I’m so glad that I did, because the prescribed text was almost providential. What do I mean? I’m so glad you asked.

One of the biggest news stories right now is Pope Francis’ visit to the United States. He actually made history as the first Pope ever to address a joint session Congress. As you can probably imagine, the world of social media has been abuzz with chatter related to all things Roman Catholic. Many people, Protestant and Catholic alike, were thrilled with the Pope’s message of care and compassion for the vulnerable. Others, however, not so much. The usual trope abounded: the Pope is the Antichrist; Roman Catholics are going to hell; etc. While I’m not Roman Catholic (I don’t like labels, but I would describe myself as a moderately conservative protestant evangelical), I was troubled by a lot of the anti-Catholic rhetoric. You can imagine (perhaps) my excitement, then, when I saw that the lectionary reading for this Sunday included Mark 9:38-41.

John said to him [Jesus], “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.

You probably already see where I am going with this, and if you haven’t already angrily closed the browser and blocked me on Twitter or unfriended me on Facebook, I hope you’ll hang with me.

This passage is a clear reminder that narrow-minded religious exclusivism has been around for a very long time. John and the other disciples saw someone who wasn’t part of their crowd casting out demons in the name of Jesus and, instead of rejoicing that more people were joining the mission, they tried to put a stop to it. “Who do you think you are, using the name of Jesus like that? You don’t have that kind of authorization. You don’t have the right credentials. You’re not one of us.” I wonder how often we do that in our own ways. “They don’t believe everything we believe. They don’t have the right doctrine. They don’t have the right education. They don’t have the right credentials.” Narrow-minded exclusivism is a clear indication that we have lost sight of the greater mission.

When we consider this story’s placement within the broader context, the irony of the disciples’ attitudes becomes even more apparent. Immediately preceding this story, in Mark 9:33-37, the disciples had been debating among themselves who was the greatest. Jesus instructed them that the one who wants to be first should become the servant of all and that an attitude of welcoming and hospitality in his name would be regarded as welcoming God himself. John, completely missing the point and almost as if he had not been listening to a word Jesus said, proudly declared that they had tried to stop someone else from ministering in his name. 

​More ironic still is the fact that Mark 9:14-29 is a story about how the disciples themselves had been unable to cast a demon out of a child. Could it be that the disciples’ sanctimonious elitism was really just a mask for their own envy and insecurity? Could it be that they were upset that some stranger had been able to do what they, “the chosen ones,” had not been able to do? Could it be that we criticize other churches or denominations or people because they have been effective where we have been ineffective?

As usual, Jesus’ response is so perfect. In my minds eye I picture him as a patient parent, gently correcting his children who just never seem to quite get it. 

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.

Or, to paraphrase, “Guys, you are missing the point. Remember how I came to set people free. If someone is doing mighty works in my name it means that they recognize my authority and it means that they are working toward the same mission that we are. Anyone who’s working to accomplish the same mission that I am is ok by me. Just loosen up a bit; you worry about what I’ve called you to do and I’ll worry about them, ok?”

1 Comment

  1. “These days the terms good and God seem synonymous. We believe what’s generally accepted as good must be in line with God’s will. Generosity, humility, justice—good. Selfishness, arrogance, cruelty—evil. The distinction seems pretty straightforward.

    But is that all there is to it? If good is so obvious, why does the Bible say that we need discernment to recognize it?” ~ Bevere

    Nothing wrong with having compassion and care for the vulnerable but what is motive behind this message? to win over more people to catholicism or to truly join hands with christians and help all who need it? Are you comparing casting out devil spirits with this as well? Historically speaking when have Catholics cast out devil spirits in the name of jesus christ? do they cast them out in the name of the father, the son, and the holy spirit?

    Speaking of history, The word Catholic literally means universal. It does not mean a specific denomination per say. It refers to a generally held and universal belief more than it does refer to a denomination. The Catholic Church was the dominant force when it was able to convert the old Roman Empire, from the inside out. During the many early years of Christianity, the church at Rome defended the veracity of the Bible, protected the belief of the Trinity, upheld the truthfulness of Jesus’ birth from the Virgin Mary, and built these beliefs in what is commonly called the Creed. The Creed was a multifaceted document that stated the untenable beliefs of the Bible, of the holiness of God, and the prevention of heresies that came from many different sects.

    Many of the early church patriarchs stated that these foundational beliefs were “catholic”; that is they were held universally in the church. If any of these beliefs were not held by a church, then that particular faith or church was said to be heretical. In other words, if a religious denomination or church did not believe that Jesus was both God and man, that the Bible is the perfect and infallible Word of God, and that God was three personages in One (the Trinity), then that church or denomination was a false church teaching a false gospel. (sounds like elitism).

    Some more history, what about the long stream of catholic priests who rape boys? is this spiritual or caring? Could be blowback from their own doctrines? Sure, not every religion is perfect and ALL have faults and are run by men but doctrine and truth on who God and Jesus Christ are along with sexual behavior the way God intended would cause any christian to at the very least “discern” whether or not the cause for peace is genuine or a mere tactic to widen the catholic footprint. Separation by beliefs has caused many to stay divided in the bible such as Paul and Barnabas and yet they are both saved. But the bible doesn’t continue to follow or even speak of barnabas…


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