Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Tribe of “Us”

“Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

“Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us.” (Mark 9:38-40 NIV)
The disciples were not happy with this fellow — he was driving out demons in Jesus’ name. He was obviously not one of their little band, because he did not travel with them. They were with Jesus — literally — but this guy clearly was not. Yet here he was, performing exorcisms in Jesus’ name, just as if he had been one of them.

That made the disciples very uncomfortable. In fact, they were so uncomfortable with being uncomfortable that they tried to stop him from working those miracles in Jesus’ name. Jesus had commissioned them, not him. They wanted to draw a clear line of distinction and make sure that he did not do anything that was supposed to be done only by them.

They were proud of themselves over what they had done, so John went and told Jesus about it. But Jesus would have none of their attitude: “Do not stop him,” He said. Imagine Jesus looking at their perplexed faces and blinking eyes. Then an explanation: “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me.”

This man was clearly doing miracles — he was casting out demons. Just as clearly, he was doing it in the name of Jesus. Not as magic, using Jesus’ name as some sort of talisman he picked up somewhere along the way (the way Christians sometimes pray). No, this guy was acting in faith. Not just faith in the name of Jesus, but faith in Jesus Himself — he could not have driven those demons out otherwise. Remember the story of those exorcists in the book of Acts who did not know Jesus but tried to cast out demons in His name? It did not work out well for them.
Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists took it upon themselves to call the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “We exorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.”
    Also there were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, who did so. And the evil spirit answered and said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?”
    Then the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, overpowered them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. (Acts 19:13-16)
But this man that John and the disciples tried to stop was actually getting the job done in the name of Jesus. He was acting on Jesus’ behalf, doing what Jesus would do.

The message Jesus preached, the gospel, was the announcement that the kingdom of God was now here (Mark 1:14-15). And all the miracles, healing and exorcisms Jesus did were manifestations of God’s kingdom now come into the world. This man apparently grabbed onto Jesus’ message, believed it and went out to live it. And doing so, he manifested the kingdom in quite tangible ways. What Jesus’ disciples were still learning, this man was out doing, and it really bugged them because he was not one of them — one of “us.”

And now Jesus brings out the kicker: “Whoever is not against us is for us.” Notice carefully what Jesus didn’t say. He didn’t say, “Whoever is not against Me is for Me,” but rather, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” He was doing a couple of things here. First, He was establishing solidarity between Himself and the disciples. He and the disciples were “us.” They all belonged together. Jesus and the disciples; the disciples and Jesus. They were all mates.

But Jesus was also establishing solidarity between Himself, the disciples and this other fellow, who was outside their little group yet accomplishing miracles in Jesus’ name. John had tried to stop this guy, “because he was not one of us.” But Jesus was saying that, yes, this fellow, too, is “us.” Part of Jesus. Part of the disciples. Part of “us.”

Jesus was redefining the disciples’ small and limiting idea of “us.” And that made them uncomfortable. Makes us uncomfortable, too. But that’s not a bad thing … is it?