John 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.” 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. Mark 9:38-39
Now this is a puzzling passage. Why did Jesus tell them to not stop this guy? I mean, look at what Jesus says in Matt 7:21-23 —
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
So shouldn’t Jesus want the disciples to say to this guy, “Away from us, you evil doer?” I mean, after all, the guy wasn’t following Jesus. How could he be doing the will of the Father?
I’ve thought of numerous reasons why Jesus told the disciples not to stop, but the one that rings most true for me right now is that he’s teaching them a lesson about pride.
There’s a subtext here. What the disciples are really saying is,”We tried to stop him, because he wasn’t following Jesus like WE are. We’re the privileged ones, we’re the ones who know Jesus. I mean, we just saw Moses and Elijah! We’re going to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand in his kingdom. We’re the ones doing it the right way.”
And that’s why Jesus tells them not to stop the man. He’s saying. “You’re not better than this guy. You’re not ‘holier than thou.'”
It doesn’t mean the exorcist guy was right with God or knew Him.
But the disciples don’t seem to have a clue about God either. In spite of all the time with Jesus, they still don’t get it. They keep doing stuff like arguing about who’s the greatest, worrying about how much bread they have, and rebuking Jesus when he says he is going to be killed. They think Jesus is going to be pleased with them when they tell the guy casting out demons to scram.
It brings to light that it is so important to KNOW God, and what really pleases Him, not what we THINK pleases Him. The disciples thought they were hot stuff because they were followers of Jesus. But they still missed the point.
Are we missing the point too? We can’t just be seekers of God. We have to seek to KNOW Him.
How much do ask ourselves, “What is God’s will in this situation?” I think often I only give perfunctory attention to this. Sometimes I don’t think about it, and sometimes I run it through my mind and make a quick determination and move on.
But Jesus wrestled with knowing God’s will for hours, until he was sweating blood.
It takes effort to get outside of our personal biases and see instead what matters to God.
Ken turned me on to a great sermon by John Louis. (Scroll on the link to March 29, 2015) It’s about knowing God. And the gist of it is that the Hebrew word for knowing is yada‘, which means to know by experience.
How do we know by experience God? We acknowledge how He’s worked and is working in our lives. We recount all the ways He’s been faithful. We don’t just see our lives as this random collection of happenstance, we recognize and NAME that it is only because of God that each good thing has happened.
That means that we should cultivate gratitude. Every time we thank God, we experience Him.
And here is the thing. Religious pride keeps us from experiencing God. Because when we have religious pride, it’s all about us and what we’re doing for God. It’s not about what HE is doing. We can’t see it.
Also, when we have religious pride, we can’t see what’s important to God: PEOPLE. We’re self important, and thus, others can only be less important.
So let’s yada’ God. As things happen, don’t just react. Ask instead, “What does God see here? What is God doing? What is the Spirit doing?”
Because that’s what I think Jesus was trying to get at when he told the disciples, “no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.“
Jesus was saying the Spirit was at work. We don’t know how or understand this even today. But Jesus didn’t want the disciples to deter the work.
Think about these verses:
- Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. I Cor. 12:3
- “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, John 6:44
Let’s have a reverence for the workings of God in the lives of others. That doesn’t mean we leave them alone. We can still proclaim to them the whole will of God.
But let’s not have the religious pride that blinds us. Let’s not miss the yada’, the knowing by experience of God.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Matt 5:8
In the song “Day by Day” from the musical “Godspell” there is a line, “Oh dear Lord, three things I pray — to see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly.”
(Tried to insert video. Can’t get the silly thing to work today. Here’s a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZtR7xrgZ_Fk)
It’s a great line, because it’s true. The more clearly we see God, the more we love Him, and the more closely we’ll follow Him.
I’m trying to see God more. I’m working on being thankful, working on “riding God’s train” and not my own.
But I find pockets of self righteous pride in myself. That’s why I can relate to this story.
It’s easy to hear about activists who help the downtrodden. I get all teary eyed and think, “Oh that’s so wonderful. I want to do that too.” But then when I actually interact with “one of the least of these,” I see their messy life and cringe. I am supposed to be the warm welcoming angel of mercy, and instead part of me squirms. “They should be doing better,” I think. What that really means is, “I’m better than they are.” All of my “holier than thou” comes out of the closet.
I have a long way to go. And so did the disciples. But they were on a journey, traveling with Jesus, getting to yada’ him, and I am too. God’s presence and constant love shines on me and helps me to deal with the creepy crawly attitudes.
In the name of Jesus, power is evoked, demons are exorcised. Maybe the real demons that need to be cast out are the demons of pride. Let’s get our priorities straight.