Written by Devon Reynolds
“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. For the one who is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.’”
This scripture falls during a very important teaching moment for Jesus and his disciples. They have been traveling and while Jesus has been observing them he has revealed that he will be betrayed, killed, and resurrected, but they do not understand this. They are too busy debating their status in the group to see Jesus’s true love for them. It is in the midst of this that we see John complaining to Jesus about an unnamed prophet casting out demons without permission. What must have been going through his mind: was he concerned about losing power or place in the sight of Jesus? Was this man doing this work in a way that was different from the disciples? Was he speaking of Jesus in a way that was different from his close disciples, and their understanding? Were they threatened by this prophet’s ability to cast out demons when in this same chapter we see the disciples failing to cast out demons? In verse 19, Jesus scolds his disciples, calling them a faithless generation and questioning how much longer he must be among them.
Jesus does not condone the disciples attempting to stop this unnamed prophet from doing his work, but explains that anyone doing work in his name cannot do evil. What an answer to receive in this situation. Jesus did not give them a simple answer but challenged them to step outside their comfort zone and embrace something different, something bold. As pastors, theologians, and people of faith we will all be faced with these types of situations. We will be asked to read and interrupt the word of God and face down demons of our own and for others. I’m not talking about physical demons but those imposed on us by ourselves and by others. We will all be faced with scripture and by teachings that have been used to harm and hurt others. You cannot pick up the Bible and not face this reality. For me it was scripture being used to keep me silent as a woman in a Missionary Baptist church in rural Southern Appalachia. I challenged that and through study, faith, and the love of my mother and amazing husband I stepped out and embraced my call.
Let me be clear: the pain caused by the teachings of my youth has been a demon I’ve had to face and continue to cast out of my life daily. God does not call us to not face what has caused us pain but to listen and struggle with those situations and, yes, those passages. As those who are called to ministry in all its forms, we must be willing to have open dialogue about views and understandings that are different from our own. John felt he was in the right trying to stop the prophet because he was not in the inner circle, but Jesus tells us that we must not stop those who are doing good things in his name. That may mean listening to scripture read through a different lens than our own and even attempting to see a different viewpoint on that scripture. As seminarians we are asked to do this every day, whether that is in a class, around the lunch table, in our congregations or in our own inner conversations while reading authors we do not agree with.
On a good day I want to think of myself as learning from Jesus’s guide, but the truth is it’s much easier to be like John. Do we take the easy road because we are tired of the fight, or is it easier to say we will not listen to another’s viewpoint because it is different from our own? I would argue it is easier to NOT listen than to wrestle with a different reading of any verse, especially one that has caused you harm. I did not and I’m sure many of you did not come to seminary to take the easy way out. I came to seminary to find my voice and walk God’s path. Walking that path may mean facing those John moments and it may also mean seeing John’s actions in our own.
Jesus tells us to pause, to think, to see his work in others even if it may not be how we would do it. I challenge each of us to be bold and ask ourselves, are we acting like John when we are in conversation with each other about difficult topics and scripture, or are we living into Jesus’s call on our lives? Jesus has called us to this place at a specific time in the history of the church, our country, and even this seminary. We have not been called to take the easy way out but to step outside what is comfortable for us, which may mean having to cast out demons in our own lives to see the richness of the contributions of others on our lives. This is not an easy path but one we have been called to, to live in blessed community with one another, to learn from one another and, yes, to be challenged by one another. I challenge each of you to stop and listen to one another, to love one another even in our differences. It is our differences that make us Unique — our different points of view, our different readings, and our different ways of doing God’s work. We are God’s beloved creation. We are all called to live into this life. The path is not easy. We will be challenged, but if we care for each other and lean on each other, God’s way will be made easier.