There is a story that is only told in the Gospel of Mark. Even after all my years of ministry, I am still not sure what to make of it.
The disciples come to Jesus, and they say, “Teacher, we saw a man driving out demons in your name, and we told him to stop because he was not one of us.” (Mark 9:38).
It is truly a strange encounter. The disciples run into a man who is doing miracles in the name of Jesus, but he is not one of the Twelve disciples Jesus called to follow him.
What seems odd about this encounter is that this man is not following Jesus. He is not in the parade of people who follow Jesus everywhere listening and watching. This man went out and is casting out demons in Jesus name.
I think, and I have no proof of this, that this man watches Jesus perform a miracle or two. All the while he has a family member back home who is suffering. Finally, the man returns home and tries out what he just saw from Jesus on this person whom he cares. Unexplainably, it works, and a friend is healed. Then another person asks this unknown man to help him. He does the same thing, and it works again. Quickly he begins repeating the steps and helping other people he contacts.
The disciples are on a journey, and they encounter this man who has limited knowledge of Jesus teaching but is doing amazing things in his name. They respond by telling him to stop. It is a little hard to imagine that one of Jesus followers stands against the work of another person working in the name of Jesus, but that is exactly what happens.
I often wonder how that scene unfolded. Were there loud shouts and angry discourse? Was it a quiet request with tears? Was this done in the public eye or behind the trees as a private plea? However it happened, Jesus disciples tell the man casting out demons in Jesus name to stop doing it.
Then Jesus responds by saying “’Do not stop him, 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.” (Mark 9:39-40)
Jesus confronts the small view of the disciples. He tells them that no one who works in the name of Jesus can then turn around and work against Jesus. If they are not against the work we are doing, they are actually helping us.
Throughout my life, I have wrestled with this passage in my mind. How far do we take it? At what point does someone start to work against us? Surely this verse has parameters? This unknown man was not promoting sin, that would be against the work of Christ. He apparently is not making money off the name of Jesus. This is not a scam to fool the masses. That would be against the work of Christ. So are we on the same side as long as we are promoting the good work of Christ without selfishness or sin?
Is this still true if we have different doctrines? What are the foundational beliefs that we need? I wish something were said about this man’s beliefs. Maybe we are to assume they are in line with Jesus teaching entirely. I wish there were more.
I don’t have all the answers. I must continue to remind myself that Jesus views His kingdom much bigger than I do. I want to draw the circle of faith smaller and smaller. It does seem the kingdom has boundaries, but those often include a bigger circle than we imagine.
Most of the time I feel like the disciples, unsure of who is supporting Jesus and who is working against us. Like them, I usually mess it up and need Jesus correction. Maybe the lesson is to be full of grace toward people who are supporting the work of Jesus in some way, even if they are not in my group.