NUMBERS 11:25-29 JAMES 5:1-6 MARK 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
In the first part of today’s Gospel passage, Jesus addresses an incident that involved the apostle John castigating an exorcist who was using the name of Jesus to dispel a demon. John told him that he had to be a part of Jesus’ company in order to use his name. What was going on here?
In Jesus’ day, people believed that malevolent spirits were everywhere. Note Psalm 91:7. “You shall not fear the terror of the night nor the arrows that fly by day, nor the pestilence that roams in darkness, nor the plague that ravages at noon. Though a thousand fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, near you it shall not come.” The thousands and ten thousand refer to demonic spirits wandering throughout the night in search of vulnerable people upon whom they could inflict pestilence and plague.
Illness, especially mental illness and epilepsy, was perceived as demonic possession. Part of the work of the exorcist was to align himself with a spirit more powerful than the spirit possessing the person. He would invoke the stronger spirit by name using its superior power to free the person from the grip of that particular demon.
Recall the incident from Matthew 12:22. “They brought him a demonic who was blind and mute. He cured the mute person so that he could speak and see. All the crowd was astounded and said, ‘Could this perhaps be the Son of David?’ But when the Pharisees heard this they said, ‘This man drives out demons by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons.’” Jesus must have exhibited tremendous power for the Pharisees to accuse him of aligning himself with the most powerful of all demons, Beelzebul.
As Christianity evolved, this “practice” of invoking a superior power to liberate a person from possession by a demon took the form of invoking the name of Jesus to cure a person from “illness” or possession. This incident from the Acts 3:26 is a good example. “A man crippled from birth was carried and placed at the gate of the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked for alms. But Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, ‘I have neither silver nor gold, but what I have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk.’ Then Peter took him by the hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles became strong.”
Let’s get back to today’s gospel passage. Jesus listened to John’s report of the confrontation he had with the exorcist who was using Jesus’ name to perform the exorcism. His response was simple. “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.” But his response reached beyond this particular incident. There are other “mighty deeds” that people can, and will, perform in the name of Christ. “Anyone who gives you a cup of water because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.”
This response is so very interesting. The “mighty deeds” that can be performed in the name of Christ are exorcism, curing illnesses and…..charity. Jesus is teaching two things here, and both are important. Reaching out to people who are suffering in any way – even simply giving a cup a water to someone who is thirsty – can become a powerful event when connected to Christ because Christ can, and will, work through us. So, we call on the power of Christ to heal. We call on the power of Christ to liberate a person’s spirit. We can also call on the power of Christ to address the needs of suffering humanity. This is a challenge for us.
We might believe in faith healing. We might believe in exorcism. But it’s often difficult for us to believe that Christ’s power, working through you and me, can heal a society, or end starvation, or eradicate poverty? We tend to invoke the power of Christ to heal individuals of illness but shy away from calling on that same power to heal toxic governments or oppressive societal systems.
It’s something for us to think about. It’s something we can integrate into our personal prayer.