"Teacher," said John, "we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us." "Do not stop him," Jesus said. "No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to [the] Christ will certainly not lose his reward.
Here, Mark pictures Jesus hard at work. He had crowds to meet and He was teaching His disciples in basic terms. They were faced with significant political issues. Jesus knew that groups in the crowds wanted Him killed; some others wanted to make Him their King. He also realised that His closest disciples had some way to go before they understood themselves as children in the Kingdom of Heaven. His work was tiring and His disciples were slow learners. They were the ones His Heavenly Father had given to Him.
We also know Peter argued with Jesus. We also heard how Peter, James and John did not want to ask Him about matters they did not understand. We also heard how the other disciples were arguing about evil spirits instead of caring for the epileptic boy and his dad. It was as if their ears were full of wax. Then they also argued over who was to be 2IC, which then became an issue about who was to be the greatest of Jesus' disciples … who could blame Jesus if He wanted to take a day off?
John seems to have understood that the disciples had been cowards and poor students. They had been too scared to open their mouths. So he told Jesus what some of them had been doing. He tried putting what Jesus had taught into practise. He came and told Jesus about this fellow who was trying to cast out an evil spirit, saying "Come out Evil Spirit in the name of Jesus of Nazareth!" John had told him to stop. If he wanted to cast out spirits he should first join Jesus' school, and be taught by their Rabbi. But he wouldn't join.
But Jesus' answer to John was to show He wasn't at all worried about this other guy. He was more concerned about what John and the others had tried to do. He explained that not all His disciples were called to travel in their little band. He told them that it was not the task of students in His school to organise all the other disciples and bring them into their special group. Sure those who use Jesus' name should be encouraged to learn from Jesus and from each other. Jesus' disciples are to give each other every opportunity to do so, but Jesus wanted His disciples to be open and warm-hearted, to recognise and respect the different paths His many disciples are called to follow.
Jesus then taught them about respecting the one who helps you by giving you a drink of water. When you are helped because you are serving the Messiah you thank them and give them their due. When you are in need of a drink of water you don't try and tell the water carrier to come and join your group. You just accept the water thanking them and God Almighty.
John said: He didn't come with us so we forbade him. Just prior to this Jesus had told Peter, James and John to keep things quiet. It was after their experience on the mountain. On other occasions Jesus told His disciples, and those He healed, to keep quiet, to thank God but do it quietly, privately. Well, had John and his fellows learned this lesson of quietness and told this man to stop using Jesus' name to cast out evil spirits? Was it a matter of him coming along quietly and joining their band? They had got it wrong, again. Jesus replied: Don't forbid them! Do you think they will be able to speak evil of me if by the use of my name they are able to do such wonderful things?
The key to this is that Jesus specially chose John, Peter, James and the rest of the twelve. Their task then was to learn quietly. Their instinct may then have been to control others to keep them quiet too but this did not impress Jesus. Think of the water you had to have on that hot day. Remember? Once, God sent an angel to give Elijah a drink, so that he would not faint on his long walk into the desert (1 Kings 19:4-8)? The angel didn't forbid him; he didn't argue. The angel assisted Elijah in his trek by giving him food and drink. Jesus also assisted those who came a long journey to the edge of the desert to hear Him teach. Remember? He fed them so they could then go on their way.
Be open, says Jesus. Just because people are not able to join your little group does not mean that Our Heavenly Father doesn't shower them with gifts of healing, miracles, everyday kindness for which you should be grateful! The disciples were slow to learn this. Jesus did not say "Mind your own business". He said "Listen carefully to my teaching, be open, be loving, be kind, just like your Heavenly Father has been open and loving and kind to you. He sends His messengers to help you on your way. Respect them and be thankful."
Yes, Our Heavenly Father is very special to us but this does not mean He uses up all His kindness on us. God's love knows no end. There is a deep miracle here for us. God invites us to be open and part of the out-reach of His love.