Mark 9: 38 – 41 Whoever is not against us is for 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. Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.’
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John tells Jesus that the disciples had seen someone driving out demons in the name of Jesus and tried to stop him. Jesus, though, says that they had been wrong to do so. He puts them right with two, linked strands of teaching:
Strand 1 – “whoever is not against us is for us.”
Strand 2 – “anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.”
Mark places these two statements in the same quotation by Jesus; almost in the same breath. This can only be because they have to be considered together to be truthful.
“Whoever is not against us is for us.”
But how do we recognise that they are for us?
“Anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.”
Jesus doesn’t say anyone with a particular set of beliefs. In fact, he is specifically ruling that out as the qualification. We are to recognise those who are for us by how they behave. A single, small act of kindness in the name of Jesus is enough to show that they are on Jesus’ side.
To return to John’s question, right actions spring from the heart, so anyone working miracles in Jesus name is showing faith in him.
But there is other teaching that has been used to argue for a more exclusive approach.
“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Matthew 12: 30)
In fact, logically there is no contradiction between Mark’s statement “Whoever is not against us is for us,” and Matthew’s “Whoever is not with me is against me.” It just means that you are either for Jesus or against him; there is no overlap, no middle ground.
But logic is cold and often misleading in terms of faith. It’s worth looking more deeply at the contrast between the two quotations.
The context of Matthew’s teaching is this:
Jesus has been healing people and restoring them to life in the community. This is God’s work. Jesus refers to it as God’s harvest – ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’ (Matthew 9: 37 – 38)
The Pharisees are attacking Jesus for this – perhaps they are jealous of Jesus’ success? – and they say that he is driving out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons.
This amounts to saying that good is evil. Plainly in this case, anyone who is not with Jesus is against him.
“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters”
There is a second clause to the quotation – “and whoever does not gather with me scatters”
Think back to the teaching in Mark. The disciples had wanted to be an exclusive group, by stopping an outsider from healing in the name of Jesus. If the disciples had had their way, they would have been an exclusive group, shutting people out. They would have been undermining God’s work. They would have been scattering rather than gathering. Jesus had told them they were wrong, and that anyone who did even a small act of kindness in his name was on their side.
Matthew, too, gives an example of the criteria that Jesus applied. “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognised by its fruit.” (Matthew 12: 33) We can tell whether someone is for Jesus or against them by the fruit of their actions.
St Paul tells us what those fruit are. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.” (Galatians 5: 23 – 23)
We, like the disciples, don’t know the whole of God’s plan; in fact, we probably know next to nothing about it. God can raise up sons of Abraham from the stones; he can certainly bring people to faith without our knowing anything about it.
We mustn’t be exclusive in our faith. Others also have faith in Jesus.
It is not our task to decide whether people are in the group, or out of it. It is our job to gather the harvest, claiming it for the one who is the source of all good things.
Thank you for teaching me today. Help me to trust and obey the words you have spoken. Thank you for the presence of Jesus in my life.
In Jesus’ name, Amen