“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.” (Mark 9:38–39)
I love John’s statement to Jesus here in Mark 9. “Listen, Jesus, so we saw ‘someone’ trying to cast out demons in your name. Can you imagine that?!? He wasn’t even one of your disciples and he thinks he can do mighty works in your name. Unbelievable, am I right?”
Jesus: “No, John, you’re wrong.”
John: “Wait. What?”
The disciples were laboring under the cultural assumption that you had to actually follow a rabbi, to live with him, to know him intimately, in order to then do the works that the rabbi did. This “someone” was breaking all the rules! Sure, he gave lip service to Jesus, but he wasn’t one of the disciples. (Notice how John puts it, “he was not following us.” Not “you, Jesus,” but “us.” Perhaps a little bit of ego on the part of the disciples here since just a few verse prior they were arguing about which one of them was the greatest.)
I love Jesus’ response. “Listen John, if ‘someone’ is doing a mighty work in my name, they’re not going to turn around and bad mouth me behind my back.” What Jesus communicates is that John and the rest of the disciples don’t know everything that he is up to, and they would be wise not to assume that they do.
This seems to me to be the heart of this little incident. The disciples thought they understood how Jesus worked, but they didn’t. This is also often our problem. We put God into a box shaped the size of our own understanding and say to ourselves, “here is what Jesus can do, and here is what he will not do.” Jesus comes along and dumps our box out and says, “your box is too small.”
This is always and everywhere our problem. We want to limit Jesus’ work to something that fits into our understanding, and of course, Jesus is not the least bit limited by our limitations of him. He’s always doing stuff that amazes us, and sometimes doing stuff that upsets us. Usually this happens when he uses someone that we don’t think he should be using.