46 An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. 47 Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. 48 Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.”
49 “Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”
50 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.”
51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them. 56 Then he and his disciples went to another village. Luke 9
All disciples of Jesus are a work in progress. One way to know how far we have to go is the width of our welcome mat. Jesus’ first disciples had at the beginning a mat that wasn’t even wide enough to wipe one foot on! And it didn’t have the words “Everyone Welcome” woven into it. That sort of wide welcome developed over time.
Even Pentecost didn’t solve their narrow welcome all at once. They couldn’t seem to find a way to welcome Samaritans or people who didn’t have membership cards Disciples Club. Even though they had been with Jesus and watched him roll out his earth-wide welcome mat, it took time for them to get it and, unfortunately, for us. I must say that we have even less of an excuse than they. We have a whole New Testament and two thousand years of trial-and-error stories to teach us the value of a wide welcome. Yet, on the whole, our welcome is still pretty narrow.
The twelve wrestled among themselves for top dog position, into which Jesus brought a child as a visual aid and taught them about inclusiveness. If you can’t “welcome” a child, you can’t “welcome” me, and therefore are incapable of “welcoming” the Father. Sounds serious!
So John, the apostle of love, chimes in with how they prevented someone from outside Team Jesus from doing a ministry that they felt belonged exclusively to them. Then in the very next scene, John and his brother James called for the incineration of some Samaritans who weren’t into Jesus coming to their town.
The original twelve couldn’t get along with each other, weren’t interested in sharing their ministry with others, and prayed for their enemies to die! Not their best day.
Club Members Only!
The irony isn’t lost on us that it was John, the one known as the disciple “who Jesus loved” and the “love-one-another” apostle who evidently hadn’t quite gotten his love on yet! To his credit, he eventually caught on to the Jesus way, but early on, he was not exactly welcoming to outsiders who didn’t meet his narrow criteria for acceptance.
“Stop that guy! He’s not with us! He may be casting out demons, but since he’s not a member in our club he’s not authorized. He has to be censured!”
“He’s not one of us!” Who was this guy that John wanted stopped? Was he a follower of Jesus? It’s hard to tell, but he was defeating demons in Jesus’ name, which is not necessarily an automatic evidence of allegiance to Jesus. I’m not sure if it mattered to John at that point if the guy was a true Jesus follower. He wasn’t part of their club and that’s all he needed to censure him. That’s classic bigot, bigots of all types, spiritual bigots included. Bigots work hard to exclude and make no effort to include people. “Your club is not as good as our club. You don’t believe like us, worship like us, minister like us, so keep quiet!”
Not one of us?! What’s that about? Isn’t that the whole point? Isn’t that what we’re about, welcoming as many as possible into our club? Yeah, but what if they don’t do it like we do or act like we act or believe a little differently? Don’t you think that God foresaw that not everyone would be as perfect in doctrine and practice as you?
Could it have been that the guy was more successful at deliverance ministry than they were and they were jealous? Some of them had just struck out in a similar deliverance session until Jesus had to step in and get it done. When they saw a stranger casting out demons in Jesus’ name, rather than congratulate him and learn from him, they tried to stop him from entering their territory. Ministry success comparisons are always poisonous to Christ’s Body! Why can’t we welcome one another and celebrate the successes of others better?
“We tried to stop him.” Apparently the guy wasn’t daunted by their disapproval. He wasn’t waiting for their authorization to advance the Kingdom into enemy territory. Thankfully he didn’t know that this was supposed to be the exclusive territory of only twelve men, so it seems he went on casting demons out of people without their approval.
“Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.”
Jesus showed that his “welcome” was wider that theirs. It’s not like we’re not to have preferences, convictions, or set beliefs. But if we want Jesus-wide welcome, we’ll have to accept those who do it different than we do.
Not only did they want to shut up some people but also burn up others! We’ll have to wait till next time to unpack the latter…
For now, I ask: How wide is your welcome into your friendship, your home, your neighborhood, your church, your country? What kind of hoops does someone have to jump through in order to minister beside you?