The past two weeks’ posts discussed the conflict among the disciples. Although the disciples had internal conflicts, they were also concerned about protecting their interests as a group. Ironically, this group’s interests did not always correspond to Christ’s intentions. Today’s post considers the conflict of interests between the disciples and an unofficial disciple casting out the devil in Christ’s name. Jesus told his disciples not to forbid him since he did not act against Jesus’ name.
The story appeared only in Mark 9: 38-39 and Luke 9:49-50, with the same settings. In both narratives, the incident happened immediately after Jesus responded to the dispute among the disciples, where he emphasised that anyone who wants to be the greatest must be the servant of all. The story appeared as a continuation of that discussion. In both narratives, John the Beloved raised the concern that someone not among the twelve was casting out demons. He said: “Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he was not following us” (Mark 9:38; Luke 9:49).
The first person plural ‘we’ shows that it was a general concern of the apostles, or at least not only John’s. Perhaps they were concerned that he would sell Jesus’ miraculous power for financial gain as Simon the magician wanted to do (Acts 8:18-24). However, it is unsurprising that John voiced the concern to Jesus. As I wrote in the 28 March 2022 post titled, ‘Peter and John: Love and Responsibility’, “Peter and John loved Jesus, but they had different kinds of love. John had more of a jealous love for Jesus, which could undermine the Church’s mission of evangelisation…While John’s love manifested more in fighting those who disagree with Jesus and in riding the privilege of closeness to Jesus, Peter’s was more of love as responsibility in protecting the person of Jesus and what he represents.”
Jesus’ response was largely the same in the two narratives. In Mark, Jesus said: “Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me” (Mark 9:39). However, in Luke, Jesus addressed the response specifically to John. The scripture reads: “But Jesus said to him, “Do not forbid him; for he that is not against you is for you” (Luke 9:50).
The conflict was between the twelve disciples and an unofficial disciple, and the conflicting interest was about the exclusivity of Jesus’ power and influence. The twelve felt they had the exclusive right, while the unofficial disciple believed he could partake in God’s power. Hence, Jesus responded to this. The primary purpose of Christ’s coming into the world was to save souls (John 3:16). Jesus rightly said that he came that we might have abundant life (John 10:10). Therefore, providing and enabling abundant life governed his decisions.
The unofficial disciple casting a demon using Christ’s name attempted to liberate a soul possessed by the devil. It was irrelevant if it was not one of the twelve that did so. Casting out demons in Christ’s name testified to the great faith of this unofficial disciple. If the man intended to use the power for money, Christ’s universal gift to all who believe in him rendered the disciples incompetent to stop him. Judgement belongs to God. By the way, the twelve couldn’t even heal an epileptic man a father had earlier brought to them for lack of faith. This incident was recorded in Mark 9:17-29 and Luke 9: 38-41; therefore, it happened just before the dispute ensued among the disciples, and John voiced their concern about an unofficial disciple.
Lessons from Jesus
(a) Be principled:
Principles are necessary for human relationships and help avoid conflicts. This is because conflicts often stem from unmet expectations. Therefore, knowing people’s principles lowers our expectations of what we want them to do or say. Jesus’ primary mission was to liberate souls who believed in him. Hence, when John voiced the disciples’ concern against the unofficial disciple, Jesus maintained his decision to manifest in all who believed him.
(b) God can manifest through anyone:
Jesus said to his disciples: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide” (John 15:18). The disciples were jealous that someone outside of them was casting out demons, and considered him an enemy. Jesus’ response reminded them that God could use anyone, even if he were outside of their fold.
(c) Use those gifted and capable to ensure success:
Although Christ called the twelve specially, he also sent out seventy others because he knew that the twelve could not do all. Hence, when the disciples stopped someone from assisting, Jesus said: “Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me” (Mark 9:39). This shows that those gifted and capable are needed to ensure the success of any initiative. If we really desire success, they must not be part of an inner circle. Therefore, we need to work together with our gifts to bring success. Working together for a common purpose reduces conflict because the common interest supersedes all other personal interests.
(d) Do not obstruct those saving lives:
Many people are suffering and are in bondage. Hence, Jesus came to bring holistic salvation to all. Jesus, as a human, also knew that he could not do this alone, irrespective of his strength and capacity. Even the disciples could not. In fact, no human can solve all life’s problems. Therefore, Jesus reproved the disciples for attempting to stop someone from helping one in bondage. This is also essential in conflict prevention and management because people tend to fight back when someone obstructs their route to liberation.
(e) Do not let emotions becloud our mission:
The disciples’ opposition to the unofficial disciple was an emotional response of those fearful of losing their exclusivity to Jesus’ power. Yet, just before that incident, the disciples themselves could not heal an epileptic because they lacked faith. Hence, one wonders why they opposed the man. The saying goes that one should not be a poor person and a witch. Emotions can destroy our vision and mission and can lead to needless conflict. Jesus’ response reminded them to step back and reevaluate – anyone who was not against them was for them.
May God continue to help us🙏🏾
I am a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Okigwe, Nigeria, and an advocate of the indispensable role of religion in contemporary society. My academic background includes degrees in philosophy, theology, education, peace and conflict resolution, religion, and canon law. These studies give me a broad perspective that helps in an existential analysis of the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church.