In today’s Gospel reading, John comes to Jesus about a man who was driving out demons in Jesus’ name. John tells Jesus that they tried to prevent him because “he does not follow us.” I wonder if Jesus’ answer surprised John and the rest of the disciples: “Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us.”
In these times when people seem to be choosing sides on every issue, and loyalty and purity are measured by an unwillingness to speak to the other side, maybe Jesus’ answer surprises us, too. To many, there may not even be a category of people who, though not part of us, “are not against us.”
Perhaps we may need to look at why John brings this up to Jesus in the first place. The apostles don’t necessarily have a problem with someone driving out demons in Jesus’ name. They have a problem because the man wasn’t one of them. Could this be similar to the problem the Pharisees had with Jesus? Jesus did good things, like healings and exorcisms, but since He didn’t have the same understanding of the Law (or the status of the Pharisees?) that they did, the Pharisees rejected Him.
Jesus in our Gospel reading cautions us about how we judge others. I think we can be true to our Catholic Christian identity and still work with others of good faith for the building up of the kingdom. That has been my experience in both Birmingham and in Detroit.
Perhaps it is a test of Wisdom, as it says in our first reading from Sirach (4:17), to see others as God sees them. May we follow the Wisdom of God in Jesus Christ, as we strive to work for justice and peace.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P., is the local superior at St. Paul of the Cross Passionist Community in Detroit, Michigan.