Prepare to listen. Prepare to listen to God’s Word and pray: The earth, O Lord, is full of your steadfast love; teach me your statutes. (Psalm 119:64)
Read Mark 9:38-41
38John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ 39But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. 40Whoever is not against us is for us. 41For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
The only time the disciple John speaks in this Gospel, indeed even appears on his own, is in this passage. Unfortunately, it’s not a very flattering picture of John. He comes across as boasting of the disciples’ zealousness for Jesus’ cause; seems proud of the fact they tried to stop an ‘outsider’ exercising ministry in the name of Jesus, ‘because he was not following us.’ Did you notice John’s use of ‘us’ instead of ‘you’ (meaning Jesus)? John has included himself as leader with Jesus! He wanted to exclude from Jesus’ community those who weren’t ‘one of us’. He wants “to erect boundaries around the exercise of compassionate ministry ‘in Jesus’ name’” (Myers 2015, p. 261), as though status and power are in the ability to exorcise demons. John wanted to maintain a monopoly on all of that. I wonder, did he conveniently forget that his fellow disciples had no power to exorcise a demon from a young boy (9:14ff)? Sadly, John’s attitude is not that uncommon. N. T. Wright suggests that it’s “a symptom of a disease that afflicts the church to this day” (Wright 2004, p. 126). We want to control the power and place boundaries around the compassion of Jesus and who should receive it.
If John was concerned about competing powers, Jesus wasn’t. ‘Do not stop him,’ is his commanding response to John’s objection. Jesus is free from the fear we so often indulge in, that the ‘wrong’ sort of person will do what only a Jesus-follower should be able (think ‘allowed’) to do. We need to heed Jesus’ assurance: Anyone who acts in the name of Jesus will soon join Jesus and his followers; they won’t be against us. ‘For truly I tell you,’ is a phrase that means Jesus is about to say something important and we should perk up our ears and listen more carefully. Anyone, regardless of who they are, what they believe, if they show compassion to one who bears the name of Christ won’t lose the reward. Jesus will notice, and the person will be affirmed. Jesus endorses the compassionate acts of ‘outsiders’, even when it’s as basic as giving a ‘cup of water to drink.’ Jesus welcomes all who engage in works of justice and mercy. Do not stop them.
Who might be the people you want to exclude from acting in Jesus’ name? Who might be a person who acts in Jesus’ name that you could give something as basic as a cup of water? Do it today.
Respond to Jesus in prayer
Lord, forgive me when I want to behave like John and put boundaries around your compassion. Help me today to show compassion to all, no matter what I think of them, in your name. Amen.
Go and live obediently in the world where Jesus rejects our boundary walls.