Luke 9:49-50 (CEV)
49 John said, “Master, we saw a man using your name to force demons out of people. But we told him to stop, because he isn’t one of us.”
50 “Don’t stop him!” Jesus said. “Anyone who isn’t against you is for you.”
One Of Us
Have you ever wanted to figure out if someone is “in” or “out”? It’s a pretty basic human impulse as it turns out. Brian McLaren talks about this in his recent book, “The Great Spiritual Migration”. (It’s worth a read!) He tells us that anthropologists suspect this urge to categorize each other goes way, way, way back in time to early tribesmen who needed to identify rapidly whether someone was part of their tribe (and therefore someone they should protect) or part of another tribe (and therefore an imminent threat) when they met out in the woods or on the savannah.
Back in the day, we might have looked for war paint or bead designs or genetic differences to help us determine who was “in” and who was “out”. But as time went on and hunter-gatherer tribes turned into agricultural communities and then city-states and eventually empires, the in-built programming to find out if someone was “other” or if they were “one of us” continued, becoming centered more on things like belief systems and language and cultural practices.
And it’s this same process at work in John here. Having spent enough time with kids, I read this and imagine him running up to Jesus breathless with his complaint. “Jesuuuuuus!” (You’ve got to catch the slightly whiney inflection, here!) “Simeon’s using your name to cast out demooonnnnss.” (That’s our trick, not his trick. It’s not faaaiiiiirrrrr!) “We told him to stooopppp, but he wouldn’t lisssttteeennnn.”
It’s not fair.
He’s not on our team.
He didn’t make the try-outs.
He didn’t pass the course.
This is supposed to be just for us – and he’s not one of us!
And Jesus says, “anyone who isn’t against you is for you.”
Jesus doesn’t check to make sure he’s using the right technique. He doesn’t go over and ask the man to carefully articulate his statement of belief to ensure that his understanding of “propitiation,” “end times theology” and “righteousness” are correct. He doesn’t demand that the man join them for weekly lessons. He doesn’t do any of that. He says, “Don’t stop him!” I hear the exasperation in his voice. “Are you guys nuts!?!? Why would you try to stop him when he’s doing good stuff?!?!?”
The history of the church is, unfortunately, rife with the idea that there is an “us” and there is a “them”. It goes against our natural (broken) inclinations to see someone else doing something a little different from the way we would do it, standing outside of “our” group. It challenges something deep in our core when we have to deal with someone loving others without having jumped through all of our hoops properly first. We can easily start to worry that maybe those people over there (and they’re always “those people” and they’re always “over there” because those are phrases that help us to stay distant and separate) shouldn’t be allowed to be part of what God is doing because they’re not part of our group.
But to this deeply ingrained way of thinking, Jesus says categorically – “No.” We want to say that anyone who isn’t exactly like us is against us, but Jesus turns the argument on its head.
“Don’t stop him! … Anyone who isn’t against you is for you.”Journal Questions:
- Does anyone come to mind when you first read John’s breathless exclamation? Someone at work? Someone who goes to a different church, perhaps, or is maybe even part of a different tradition?
- Do you ever find yourself in arguments with people who don’t have all of the same beliefs that you have? They’re not actively against you, they’re just not getting it “right”?
- What do you do with Jesus’ response?
- How does it change how you will live?