Our Gospel reading this week is Luke 9. Let’s begin by looking at verse 46-48.
46 An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. 47 Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. 48 Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.” – Luke 9:46-48 NIV
Why would an argument break out over who was the greatest? It could possibly be a result of the three who went on the mountain with Jesus (Lk. 9:28-36). But if we’re honest with ourselves, we all want to be the greatest, right? Our society is set up this way. We are taught to look up to those who are “the greatest” and try to be like them. Our school systems are set up this way where we honor those from the earliest age who are “the greatest” in grades, attendance, sports ability, and the list goes on and on. We are taught that earthly success, standing high above everyone else in your field, is the most important thing you can do.
Jesus doesn’t say that. In fact, he says exactly the opposite. I like how William Barclay summarizes this passage:
“Jesus was saying, ‘If you are prepared to spend your lives serving, helping, loving people who, in the eyes of the world, do not matter at all, you are serving me and serving God. If you are prepared to spend your life doing these apparently unimportant things and never trying to be what the world calls great, you will be great in the eyes of God.’”
I think this same thinking is involved with the very next thing Luke tells us.
49 “Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”
50 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.” – Luke 9:49-50 NIV
It seems that John viewed this person as competition. He was more concerned with who was doing the work than what was actually being accomplished. Notice he says “we saw someone driving out demons…” This guy was actually casting out demons, not just trying. God had given him the ability and desire to serve these needy people by casting out demons, and John tried to stop him.
Have you ever done this? Have you ever seen someone doing good works in Jesus’ name but had a problem with it because they were “not one of us?” I know people who refuse to support local efforts to feed the hungry, or clothe the poor because the group doing it are “not one of us.” In light of this passage, how do you think Jesus would handle this? Would he support the good works being done in his name, or would he refuse to join them because they are “not one of us?”
Years later, the same John that tried to stop this man would record for us this prayer of Jesus.
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” – John 17:20-21