(36-37) And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” And with these words, a stunned silence falls upon the gathered disciples. All their words on the road – debating who was the greatest – they are laid bare with this poignant lesson from Jesus. Can you imagine how uncomfortable it is as they all sit there looking for a way out of their shame? Looking for something to say, some way to get past this lapse in judgment and show that they are ready to do better.
Then John has an idea: (38) 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.” In your name, you say? That reminds me Jesus. The other day we came across this real character trying to do all sorts of things “in your name”. But don’t worry, we took care of it for you. It seems like the perfect opportunity doesn’t it? Show Jesus that you don’t just care about your own reputation … you care about His too. This should ease the tension.
But what Jesus says next wipes the beginnings of those smiles right off their faces. The ever-so-slightly straightening backs and raised eyes hunch down again in confusion and embarrassment. (39-40) 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. For the one who is not against us is for us. Do you think they felt blindsided? I would have. Isn’t it right for a student to be protective of his master’s name and reputation? Weren’t they doing an honourable thing in upholding the dignity of their rabbi? Wouldn’t we like to think we would do likewise if someone we came across was playing with holy things they didn’t understand?
The disciples were jealous. Maybe a little jealous that this man was doing something that they only recently could not. But mostly, I think, jealous for Jesus’ sake. It was His name, His reputation on the line after all and this stranger didn’t know the first thing about Him. Who did he think he was? While the first kind of jealousy is just plain wrong and leads only to trouble, the second is not so much wrong as it is misplaced. Consider the words of Moses to Joshua in our Old Testament reading, when something identical happens:
(Numbers 11:27-29) And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” And Joshua the son of Nun, the assistant of Moses from his youth, said, “My lord Moses, stop them.” But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!”
You see, this kind of Jealousy for God shows that they still don’t understand what Jesus was trying to tell them about little ones and greatness in the kingdom. Greatness isn’t found in being jealous for the great, but for the weak. Greatness isn’t found in protecting God but in serving others. God is big enough to look after Himself … who is looking after those others?
And if that weren’t hard enough to fully comprehend, Jesus throws one more twist into His response. (41) For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward. Isn’t it just another form of jealousy to think that God can and is only working through us? That others don’t deserve to be used in such a way? Yet here Jesus clearly shows that God can be and indeed is at work in and through the lives of those who just don’t fit the mold. Those who don’t belong to His inner circle. Those who might not even nominally be known as Christians. And that work is for our benefit! Sometimes, in our jealousy for God, we are quick to paint people as either with us or against us. But it isn’t always so black and white. Who are we to say where God is at work and where He is not? Some who profess to be Christian are sadly, very far from heaven. Some of “them” out there are much closer than they or we might think.
There is a striking parallel to this idea in Paul’s letter to the Philippians (1:15-18) Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice,
And why not rejoice? (49) For everyone will be salted with fire. Jesus goes on to say. Each will get what they deserve … it’s not up to you or me to decide. God will take care of His own reputation. So don’t worry, it will all come out in the wash! Again, just as St. Paul reiterates in 1 Corinthians (3:13) each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.
In short, what Jesus says to John and the other disciples is that they should be worried less about who is doing what (a question of greatness, and a stumbling block of jealousy) and more with what they are doing for those whom God has placed before them. In other words, their jealousy would be better spent not on Him, but on the very ones who seem to be weaker in the faith and yes, even outside of the faith. Thus He gives them His next caution, and a seemingly graphic one at that:
(42) “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” And don’t be fooled, this is no exaggeration. It is just that important. God wants everyone to be saved, and woe to any one of us that intentionally comes in the way of that all-consuming passion of His. It may make us uncomfortable, it may make us rethink our ideas of greatness, but not everyone will be saved by exactly the same road. By this I am not saying that Lutherans may be wrong in how we read the Bible and conduct our lives of faith. Nor am I saying that I think any other Christian group has got something right that we do not. But what I am saying is that there are some people who will not come to God by the Lutheran way that may by some other way. However, part of the inner circle or not, everyone who is saved will come to the same exact truth. A truth that we Lutherans both know and treasure already.
The truth that God loved us so much, we weak little ones, that He sent the greatest and the best … His one and only Son. Sent His Son to do what we could never do for ourselves. He sent His Son Jesus to serve the lowest of the low, to do great and mighty wonders in God’s name, to place himself under the condemnation of the law, to take our place under the right and divine wrath of God and literally be cut off and throne into the fires of hell. Hands and feet nailed to the wood of the cross, eyes blinded by sweat and blood. Drowning under the weight of his dying body unable to support himself any longer.
This is how jealous God is for us. Jealous enough to spend everything He had … even Jesus Christ Himself, to gain us back. And so this is one remarkable truth is the basis for not only our relationship with Him, but with one another. For Lutheran or not, Christian or not, God jealously wants every single person you know to come to this truth too! This knowledge seasons our every dealing with those around us. (50) Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
The Gospel is salt, the good news of sins forgiven. Sinners accepted in Christ Jesus our Lord and Saviour is the seasoning. Where the salt loses its saltiness, and the Gospel is spoiled with doctrines of men, there the old Adam can no longer be spiced, there the worms will grow. But salt is sharp; therefore it is necessary to have patience and peace in the salt.”
It’s all about a well-placed jealousy. Greatness isn’t found in being jealous for the great, but for the weak. Greatness isn’t found in protecting God but in serving others – especially those who are different, those who are weaker in the faith. (Col 4:6) Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. Being salted with the Gospel, and being jealous for the eternal well-being of those around us … that’s how we season the world one life at a time.