I. PROPER PRIORITIES – The text begins, John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.” (Mark 9:38)
The Apostle John’s consternation bespeaks confused priorities. Task number one is to advance the Kingdom of God and take back territory from the evil one. If someone is able to drive out demons in Jesus’ name, we ought to praise the Lord! The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
But the Apostles here seem more concerned about pedigree and control. Possibly, too, they are beset by notions of personal advancement, power, prestige, and pride.
Souls being set free seems a secondary concern to them.
Wrong priority! Priority number one: more about Jesus and His Kingdom, less about me and my glory. Don’t stop others from driving out demons. Help them, or at least get out of the way!
Thus the Lord says, Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us. (Mark 9: 39-40)
This does not mean that we cast aside any notions of proper doctrine or that we close our eyes to those who seek to exploit religion for personal gain or to prey on God’s people. These are in fact incursions of the very evil we seek to drive out. But as general rule, we ought to affirm what is helping people to get free from Satan and be joined to the Lord.
II. PROPHETS need PARTNERSHIP – The Lord admonishes the apostles, Whoever is not against us is for us. Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink … will surely not lose his reward. (Mark 9: 41)
This of course implies that the apostles will in fact be in need of help, encouragement, and basic necessities as they undertake to proclaim the Gospel.
The attitude of wanting to do everything myself is not only prideful, it is foolish and impossible. We must accept that one of the provisions necessary for those who would be prophets is the help and support of others.
Neither can the Church blithely reject the help of medical science, psychotherapy, the business sector, or the government. Other things being equal, there can and should be a proper partnership with these areas of human knowledge and expertise. While distinctions must be made and errors rejected, there is a partnership that cannot be ignored. When the ship is sinking (and it is, ever since the Fall of Man) it’s “all hands on deck.”
Insofar as ecumenism goes, the Church must also respect the fact that elements of the truth are found among our Protestant brethren. Frankly, some of the best Catholics I know started in Protestant denominations, where they learned a great love for Jesus and the Scriptures. And they have brought their gifts to us.
Protestantism lacks the fullness of the truth, but there are things to be affirmed. We should also humbly admit that they do some things well, and in some cases even better than we do. We pray for full reunion, but in the meantime we ought to affirm what is good and accept that Christ and elements of His message can be found there. Future Catholics may be growing there even now.
III. PERCEIVE the PRIMARY PROBLEM – Through the use of several analogies, the Lord illustrates just how serious sin is and how essential is our need to draw people to salvation. He speaks provocatively here; do not miss how serious the Lord describes sin to be:
Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut if off. It is better for you to enter into life crippled than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. (Mark 9: 42)
Wow, sin is more serious than most of us think! It’s certainly more important than who’s in charge or who’s getting the glory.
Yes, our sin is our most serious problem. Jesus says that it is more serious to sin than to lose a hand, foot, or eye! To sin is worse than to be physically maimed. But we don’t think like this. And to give scandal to others is so awful that Jesus says being cast into the sea with a millstone around one’s neck would be a better option!
We have to understand that sin is the primary problem, and that liberating souls from sin and the evil one is our primary work. Church socials and growing membership rolls are fine, but preaching repentance unto salvation is our work for the good of souls. Drawing people to Christ, through Word and Sacrament, is our chief goal.
It is an essential role of the prophet to help people recognize the absolute need for salvation, and then to draw them to the one who alone can save them. Otherwise, a fiery Hell awaits them.
The ancient prophets held up the sins of the people before them, calling them to return to the Lord wholeheartedly. How about us? This gospel does not mince any words: we must do our essential work and worry less about position, prestige, and the like.
Are our priorities those of the Lord?
Here’s an old hymn that gives advice:
Don’t exalt the preacher,
don’t exalt the pew,
Preach the Gospel simple,
full, and free;
Prove Him and you will find his promise is true,
“I’ll draw all men unto Me.”
Lift Him up, lift Him up;
Still He speaks from eternity:
“And I, if I be lifted up from the earth,
Will draw all men unto Me.”
Try not to tap your toe, now!