God’s People, part 201: Outsider

Read Mark 9:38-41

“Pride ends in humiliation, while humility brings honor.”  (Proverbs 29:23, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Jesus-facepalmPart 201: Outsider. In the previous devotion, I cut the disciples some slack. After all, it was not necessarily their fault that they couldn’t cast out the evil spirit. What’s more, the disciples become such easy targets for criticism when it comes to how dense they can be. They seemingly never fully get what Jesus is teaching them. This is at least the case in the Gospel of Mark. The disciples never quite understand who Jesus is let alone what he’s teaching.

In this devotion, however, they will not be cut slack at all. In our Scripture today, the disciples come up to Jesus in a very boastful manner. They are proud of what they just did and they cannot wait to tell the Lord. John, who is the one who tells Jesus the news of their latest action, seems certain that the Master will be pleased with him and the others for what they had done.

“Teacher,” he said, “we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he wasn’t in our group” (Mark 9:38, NLT). That’s right, John and the other disciples saw to it to stop someone from casting out demons in Christ’s name because that person was not a part of their group. In other words, the disciples believed that they were special because Jesus had chosen them and, therefore, NO ONE ELSE outside their group had the right to do ministry in Jesus’ name. They saw their discipleship as a popularity contest, as an exclusive social club, as a way to have status over others.

As can be easily imagined without even reading the rest of the account, Jesus is not happy with them at all. This is what I call a Jesus face palm moment. Jesus had been spending so much time with his disciples, teaching them that he had come to the “least of these”, to the poor, the sick, the marginalized and the lost. He had come for the sake of the OUTSIDERS and yet, in their own minds, the disciples thought that excluding an outsider was the right thing to do.

DENSE. The disciples were dense to say the least. Jesus, of course, scolded them. “Don’t stop him! No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:39-40, NLT). Jesus’ words, no doubt, must have knocked the disciples down from their proverbial high horses. Their action, according to Jesus, was not to be praised but to be denounced.

The Lord’s message to them is the same message to us now. Church congregations have largely become exclusive social clubs. Sure, we technically let outsiders; however, we don’t stop reminding them that they’re outsiders. Our orders of worship, our meeting structures, and even the way we greet them on Sundays are all reminders that they don’t quite belong.

The challenge for us is to change that exclusive social club culture we have in our congregations. Jesus was not pleased with his disciples when they quelled the spirit within the outsider, and he is not pleased when we do the same thing. Let us find ways of being as inclusive as we can be. Short of professing a false Christ, we should allow room for people to express Christ in their lives and give them a warm, inviting, and encouraging space to do so.

“But if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even find yourselves fighting against God!” – Gamaliel  (Acts 5:39, NLT)

Lord, help me to be open and welcoming to other people’s expression of you in their lives. Amen.

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