"John answered, 'Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.' But Jesus said to him, 'Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you'" (Luke 9.49-50).
Is this the most overlooked passage in the Bible? I believe that a case can be made that it is one of the most forgotten passages in Scripture. The episode is brief, and this may contribute to the disregard shown it. The episode is challenging, and perhaps this is a more likely reason it is overlooked.
What are the implications of this short encounter between John and Jesus? Do we dismiss the story as incidental and not worthy of much attention? Or do we see this brief exchange between Jesus and a disciple as a teachable moment filled with some far-reaching principle?
"We tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us," John complains. "Do not stop him," Jesus responds, "for whoever is not against you is for you."
Certainly too much can be read into this dialogue and our interpretation of it can be too extreme if not tempered with reason, but surely it offers us some advice on how to relate to others who act and speak in Jesus' name. Let's consider the implications.
Is Jesus condemning all criticism and ostracism of anyone who operates under the guise of Christianity? After all the agent of John's ire was "casting out demons in his name." What is meant by John's objection, "he does not follow with us"?
We are certainly expected and, I believe, obligated to counter false teaching, teaching that perverts the gospel and places the souls of people in peril, but we are to do so reluctantly and cautiously while making absolutely certain that the grounds of our objection to what we deem as false is secure and not based solely on our "own" sense of right and wrong. We can be too quick to judge, and we often judge others on the basis of what we feel is right or according to that which with we are personally comfortable. Our judgments are most often made according to our personal experiences and traditions, and so we are quick to condemn anything that is new, innovative, or different from our own practices.
Are not many of our criticisms of other religious people and groups focused on trivial matters, matters of opinion, and matters where we cannot quote chapter and verse with gravel-pounding authority? Yet are not the criticisms of false teachers in the New Testament always centered on bedrock theological principles--matters such as a proper understanding of God the Father, Christ, and grace? Where are the controversies that are so prevalent today, controversies that are given so much of our focus today? Certainly the controversies of yesterday will differ from the controversies of today--the passing of time necessarily redefines the sources of conflict. Yet should we not take some guidance from the approach of Paul, Peter, James . . . and yes from Jesus? "Do not stop him," Jesus said, "for whoever is not against you is for you."