I often marvel at Luke 9:49-50.
Jesus has been preaching and teaching and predicting His death. And the Twelve? Well, they’ve become The Twelve: Jesus’ associates, his right-hand men, his band of earthly brothers. They couldn’t have been unaware of their status. Jesus has shared secrets with them that no one else was meant to know, after all. Some of them witnessed the transfiguration.
Their new sense of identity shows in this chapter, especially when they start to argue over who would be the greatest among them (9:46). While blind to the sacrifice God would demand at Cavalry, the disciples nonetheless had the sense that something big was going on, that they stood atop the shoulders of history. That they were The Twelve and, in some sense, special because of that.
Which is what makes verses 49-50 so interesting.
John gives the report. “Master,” he says, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he was not one of us.”
We don’t know the disciples’ true motivations for reprimanding this “someone.” Perhaps it was jealousy over meeting someone who could drive out demons when they had failed to do the same (40). Perhaps they were simply trying in their ham-handed way to be “about the Lord’s work” in a way that fit the status they perceived themselves as having. Either way, I can’t imagine John confessed this to Jesus expecting a negative response.
And yet Jesus does not compliment him. Rather, he says, “Do not stop him, for whoever is not against you is with you.”
What a loose criteria for inclusion! Anybody who’s not giving you problems, let ’em do as they like. He’s not very concerned with the idea of random so-and-so’s running to and fro performing miracles in His name or with monitoring these new converts. For Jesus, the more seems to be the merrier. While the disciples hold a tribalistic and frankly elite view of ministry – “us” (the Twelve) versus “them” (everyone else) – Jesus much more expansively views the world as “those who are with me” and “those who are not.”
Do we modern believers share Christ’s attitude?
If we’re honest, we often don’t. It’s easy to criticize what other believers are doing based on what we think they should be doing. The disciples felt they knew best who ought and ought not to be about Jesus’ work and how and in what way – and sometimes, so do we.
This attitude doesn’t come from a necessarily malicious place. I mean sure, sometimes it might come from malice or envy or a sense of elitism (as it did with the disciples), but sometimes also comes from our desire to “protect Jesus” in some sense – to make sure the people spreading His word are vetted and approved by us to go about the good work.
But Jesus Himself tells us not to worry about that. With his loose criteria for inclusion, He reminds us that you don’t need to be “credentialed” or approved by a focus group or by leaders in charge to minister in His name. And those of us who do so may not prohibit others from doing the same.