If I say something like, “I believe that Mother Teresa did a lot of good for the cause of Christ,” are you tempted to respond with a “Maybe, but . . .”? Here’s the thing, I really don’t know much about Mother Teresa other than the fact that she had a heart to minister to the poor in one of the poorest cities in the world. I think she did this because she loved Jesus. For many she is the face of Christian compassion and concern for the impoverished. She didn’t belong to the same group that I do. I know. And neither did Diedrich Bonhoeffer, who became a voice for standing up for what is right in the midst of the madness that was Nazi Germany. I think he did much for the cause of Christ as well. I am making no statement about who is saved here. My job is to do my best to let people know what a faith in Jesus asks of us. It is not to decide where any given person is going to spend eternity. Neither is it to disparage others because they don’t belong to the same church culture as I do. If they are doing something good in the name of Christ, well then, let them to it with a “God bless you.”
Luke 9:49-50 is reminiscent of Numbers 11:24-30. Moses cries out to God in anger. Basically he tells God off for making him responsible for all the people. God tells Moses to gather seventy of the elders, men whom he knew and trusted. God would send his Spirit on these seventy. And they prophesied. But there were these two, Eldad and Medad, who had been registered, but didn’t show up at the camp meeting, who also prophesied in the camp. Joshua told Moses, “Make them stop!” And Moses’ response? “Are you jealous for me? I wish God’s Spirit would come on all people.” Joshua believed that only Moses should prophesy. Maybe he thought that if others could go about prophesying, then Moses would lose some sense of being special. And who are these guys anyway? Whoever heard of Eldad and Medad?
In our text, right after the discussion of what it means to be great in God’s Kingdom, John relates an incident that most likely happened when Jesus had sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God; you know, when Jesus gave them authority over demons and diseases. They see this random guy casting out demons in Jesus’ name. But there was this problem. This man wasn’t following along with the disciples. I mean, “how dare he?” So, the disciples stepped in and tried to restrain him. They are still grasping at greatness based on being the Twelve; the disciples of Jesus. After all, Jesus had given them authority and a mission. Who was this guy to go about doing the important work of the kingdom? And it just may be that we are intended to read this story shortly after the account of the disciples’ failure to cast out a demon. This not named man had the audacity to be successful.
Jesus responds with, “Do not restrain him.” And he follows this up with a proverbial statement: he who is not against you is for you. We could possibly say it like this: “Don’t fight against people who are not fighting against you.” But it is more than that. And what is infuriating about this very short passage is that we know nothing about what this man believed. Did he believe Jesus was the Messiah? Did he try to follow his teachings? All that we know is that he was casting out demons in Jesus name – by Jesus’ reputation or character. He must have believed in Jesus name to a greater degree than the sons of Sceva (Acts 19:14-16). But that is all that we know. So, Jesus is not saying, “This man is saved!” or “this man is a disciple just like you.” His point is when someone is doing Kingdom of God work in the name of Jesus, consider that work to be on your behalf. Kindgom work is Kingdom work. And Kingdom folk are not intended to be elitist, thinking they are the only ones who can or should do good things. And sometimes all that we need to know about another person is that they are honoring the name of Jesus. If another group of Christians is honoring Jesus by feeding the hungry, rejoice. The poor are receiving food in the name of Jesus. And that, my friends, is a good thing. It is Kingdom good. If a group seems to have inroads to the prisons, don’t disparage their initiative. Don’t demean them as if visiting prisons has less value because you or your group are not doing it. If Jesus is being honored, rejoice. Why spend time worrying about what another group is doing or not doing anyway? If you know that is right to feed the poor, then feed the poor. If the best way to do that is to partner with larger churches of different cultures and belief structures, then join them. You are not agreeing with them. You are not okaying everything they believe. You are doing Kingdom work to the glory of God. May Jesus be honored.