Scripture: Mark 9:38-50
A common quote from Henry Ford is that you can have a car of any color as long as it is black. This was at the dawn of the automotive age, there were several automakers at the time, but the Ford Motor Company was beginning gain the greater market share because of the utilization of the assembly line. This is why black was the color, because it was quicker, easier, and cheaper to produce one color. Other companies had other ideas some offered a wide variety of colors. Who was wrong and who was right? If you wanted a more affordable vehicle then you would consider the Ford, if you wanted to make a statement then you would pay a bit more. There is not a right or wrong answer when it comes to a vehicle, only opinions and preferences. Some of us have a preference to only buy a vehicle from a company owned and operated in America, to support our economy; the truth is most cars driven in the United States has been assembled in the US. So most cars are providing jobs for Americans. Again it all comes down to preference.
Preference and opinion are involved in nearly every aspect of our life. Everything from our vehicles, our jobs, our clothing, and our political party, even the worship community we attend is based on preference and opinion. Everyone has reasons for having their opinions; some of these opinions are even well researched and systematically applied. Some of our opinions are deeply held, but in most cases they are only opinions. Sometimes we forget that.
Strong opinions are part of the American way. We take pride in our opinions, maybe a bit too much pride. Strong opinions are not exclusively American. It is part of the human condition, the part that sought to gain the knowledge of Good and Evil, the part that chose to abandon and hide from our Creator because we wanted to be the masters of our own destiny.
Jesus’ disciples, the people that have come to be known as saints, were not immune from this aspect of humanity. John, the person mentioned at the beginning of this passage, was known by a couple of other terms: the disciple whom Jesus loved, and a son of thunder. Take a moment just to consider those names. As the disciple whom Jesus loved, John was one of the closest friends of Jesus. He was in that inner circle, with Peter and James. John was the one chosen to see the end of the age, not because he was smarter but loved. John got the message that Jesus came to give better than the others and Jesus loved him for that, many commentators actually call him the disciple of love because John primarily focused on God’s love in his Gospel and letters. This deep friendship and understanding was also coupled with great passion.
The son of thunder is the second term associated with John. He and his brother James were filled with passion. They came from a bold and passionate family. Their own mother was so bold that she went to Jesus demanding that her boys would sit on the right and left side of Jesus when the kingdom was established, or to sit in the seats of the most honored advisors. This passage in Mark, gives us a glimpse of the passion of John. He was a purest; he followed Jesus with the strength of a bulldog. He bit down on the gospel of the kingdom and he was not going to let go. And he would protect his teacher’s honor with fierce jealousy.
There were a select few that were chosen to be a talmid of Jesus. A talmid is a student of a rabbi, one specifically chosen to learn and carry the teaching of the rabbi to the next generation. In a contemporary sense a talmid would be one of the few people selected to a specialized department in an Ivy League University. They would be the hand chosen assistance to the department head, to learn from the most important teacher offered in the area. John was chosen and he was proud of it. John was being taught by the teacher he believed to be sent by God, the one who was going to lift the nation of Israel out from under the thumb of Rome into its rightful place as the Light of nations. No one was going to disrespect his teacher or his position in the teachers group.
John is offended that there is someone out there casting out demons in Jesus’ name. He is offended not because a good deed is being done, but because this person had the nerve of doing this deed under the authority of his rabbi, without his permission. Jesus was not the only person that could cast out demons, he was not the only person that could prompt healing in lives, to be honest everything that Jesus said and did was already written and in practice throughout the religious community. There were well established methods and ceremonies used to bring about healings and exorcisms. The difference is that Jesus seemed to be able to do these things without the normal pomp. He did this by His own authority, and his followers were able to do the same things as their teacher, by invoking His name, the NAME Of JESUS.
These feats were done in public. It was common for Jesus to provide relief to someone in bondage with a crowd around Him, and then he’d tell them to keep quite. As if you could keep something like that quiet. People observed these activities by Jesus and by his disciples, through these observations they too picked up on the strength and power in the name of Jesus. John saw this happening and he was not happy about it, because they did not walk with Jesus, they did not know the proper methods that Jesus himself used. They were not students of the teacher in a formal sense. John was upset because they were doing what he was doing and his pride was affected.
We get passionate also. We begin to think that our way of thinking is the only correct way. We have invested our time and energy in learning what we know. We have a heritage from which opinions have been handed down. The ancient churches claim apostolic succession, meaning they can trace their roots directly from an apostle, one of those directly taught by Jesus, or by from one of the closest disciples of these men. The Catholic Church claims that the apostle that headed their church was Peter. The Armenian Church claims to be headed by Bartholomew, the church in India trace their roots to Thomas. Each ancient church has an apostolic head. Yet here even before the church began there were already non-apostolic expressions of faith, and the apostles were protesting this.
Jesus responds to the thunderous declaration of John by saying, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.”
Do not stop him… whoever is not against us is for us. Jesus has called us to expand the kingdom of God. We are to do this by feeding the hungry, caring for the sick and the fatherless, befriending the friendless, loving our enemies, helping the poor, the widows, and the orphans. Do not stop those that are doing these things because if they are not against us they are for us. That means that even though we may not like the way that they do things they are on our side.
We question why the world is falling away from Christ; maybe it is because those that bear His name have failed to carry the mission. For those of us conservatives who are upset that the government is giving away money to feed the hungry, I want to ask why are we upset? Are we upset because they are doing our job for us, or are we upset because we have failed? For those of us that are more liberal, why are we upset? Is it because we have failed to do these things in the name of Christ and have done them in our name or the name of our nation instead?
We have opinions, but we need to remember what is most important. It is not about Rome, Israel, America, Canada, Ireland, or Russia it is about God. It is not about Friends, Catholics, Baptists, Mennonites, or Adventists its about God. It is not about Jew or Gentile, slave or free but life with God. That life comes through a name. It is not about Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or Green it is about the kingdom not of this world. It is not about progress or conservation, or industrialism or environmentalism but about redemption. Those that are not against us are for us is what Jesus said, do not stop it. God will redeem, God will save, God will find a way to bring forth his kingdom with our without us. God saves that is the name that is the mission. That is the light of the world and the word of God. The name Jesus, or more accurately Joshua means God is salvation.
Our mission is not to make our own name great but to bring the little ones, into the kingdom of God. Our mission is not to save the world but to help the one that is close at hand. We often times get caught up in the fight of who is right, which is the right church, or the right theology. But the heart of the matter is that God is beyond our understanding but what