The desperate father brought his pallid son to Jesus’ disciples, begging for their help to cast out the evil spirit tormenting his boy. The disciples tried their best, but their best was not enough. They gave the pitiful boy back to his heartbroken father, apologetic but unable to do anything more. It must have been embarrassing and infuriating then, when the disciples came across an exorcist who was not even a follower of Jesus casting out demons left and right (and using Jesus’ name to boot).
Indignant, the disciples rebuked the freelancer and as soon as they returned home, John, adrenaline still pulsing, sidled next to Jesus. Teacher, John said, you’re not going to believe this but we saw someone who’s not part of our group casting out demons in your name – but don’t worry, we put a stop to it. Unbelievable, huh?
But Jesus looked at John and shocked the room with his response. Nah, leave them alone. If they’re not our enemy, we’re going to count them as friends. Then Jesus goes a step further. What’s more, all someone needs to do is merely be willing to offer a cup of cold water in my name – and for that simple gesture, they secure an eternal reward. I imagine the disciples looking at one another, scratching their heads, thinking “come again?” Look, Jesus says, the bar’s pretty low here. We’re just looking for bare minimums: don’t work against us and pass us a cup of water. We need all the friends we can get. More power to ’em.
Boy do we need Jesus’ words today. I’m grieved at my own swiftness to judge, to reject, to feel superior or more secure by dismissing those who follow Jesus differently than I do.
Too often, those with a traditional understanding of faith lose their minds over those squishy progressives and enact a scorched earth policy against all the looney compromisers. Likewise, too often, those with a progressive understanding of faith go ape-shit crazy at those neanderthal conservatives, using ridicule and mockery to embarrass the fundamentalist wackos. And we just had Pope Francis visit, so I don’t even know where to begin with the Catholic / Protestant divide. Friends, anger is not the way of Jesus. Rejection is not the way of Jesus. Snark is not the way of Jesus.
If you’re not against me, Jesus says… If you’re just wiling to pass a cup of water, Jesus says…
Sometimes we work very hard to not be labeled as one of “those kinds of Christians” – I get it. Distinctions matter. Stating what we understand, and trying to be more and more faithful to the way of Jesus is good, necessary. But I think we know when we’re really just protecting our ego, working out of fear or anger – or trying so very hard to not look foolish.
Jesus exhibited massive patience, going overboard with his eagerness to welcome, his relentless desire to see the very best possibility in another. What if we practiced more gentleness and generosity toward each other – even toward those who represent the very things that ignite our ire? What if we decided to be Christian before everything else?