All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name

Proclaim Sermons
Homily: Ordinary Time 26
September 26, 2021
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary : When the apostle John catches others healing others in the name of Jesus, he tries to put a stop to it, but Jesus will have none of it. We are on the same side. God's audacious aim is to save the whole world. Therefore, whoever is not against us is for us. Isn't it just like God to be merciful and hopeful about everyone? Including us.

Who knows if chicken soup really helps when you're sick? But as some people point out if challenged, "It couldn't hurt." The same was true, no doubt, for early Christians, who wore amulets around their neck or wrist that included a prayer, a scripture or the name of Jesus. Does it help? It couldn't hurt.

Thousands of years ago these amulets were considered effective medicine when it came to healing a present sickness or warding off future illness. They were used long before Christianity came on the scene, and new Christians, with their belief in the power of the name of Jesus, saw no reason not to continue the practice after their baptism. Some of the early Church writers opposed the practice, but they seem to have gone unheard.

What's interesting is that as unbelievers began to recognize the power of the name of Jesus, especially after Christianity became legal, they began to include the name of Jesus in their amulets.

In today's scripture, John tells Jesus, "Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us." John is alarmed when he sees another person recognizing the power of the name of Jesus and is actually casting out demons and healing people. John wants Jesus to stop him.

Jesus responds, "Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us."

That seems clear cut. But the rest of what Jesus has to say in this passage - about stumbling blocks, little ones and millstones - is perhaps less clear.

This has happened before

Though John is part of the inner circle among the apostles, in this, his only solo appearance in Mark's gospel, he does not come off looking particularly good. Why? He almost seems to be against others becoming part of the kingdom of God movement.

Still, let's not minimize John's fear. There was a belief in his time that knowing the name of a powerful being meant you could gain control over them. The commandment against taking the Lord's name in vain addresses that very issue. Jesus himself warned against swearing by God's name for any reason, encouraging his disciples to let their yes be yes and their no be no.1 His brother James, in his letter, echoes this same sentiment.2

Nevertheless, God made a gift of that name. When God spoke to Moses from the burning bush, it was revealed that God's name means "I Am that I Am." And Jesus also echoes this, declaring in the Gospel of John, "... before Abraham was, I Am."3

But maybe there's more than just a concern for the misuse of Jesus' name. Perhaps the disciples of Jesus feel they have cornered the market, so to speak, on Jesus, and they're a little jealous that others might also find power, solace, inspiration and even salvation through that name - without them.

The same thing happened before, when Moses led Joshua and 70 elders to the Tent of the Presence of God, and they all were filled with God's Spirit, and prophesized ecstatically. So, when Joshua discovered that two others, Eldad and Medad, who were not present with him and the 70, also experienced God's Spirit, he was alarmed and insisted, "My lord Moses, stop them!" But Moses said to him, "Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD's people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!"4

Neither Moses nor Jesus is interested in protecting the franchise. They want more and more people to be a part of God's wonderful plan. And this, despite the desire of some others, who, having experienced the wonder of God's presence at one time, want to limit the circumstances in which people can be a part of this, and the circle of those who are allowed to be God's people. One wonders if it was because of this that the elders never had the same spiritual experience again.

It's almost as if Joshua and John want to set boundaries for God's power. If we don't share the same conversion experience, somehow the beliefs of those whose experiences are different from ours is not valid. Thus, we want to set boundaries for God's power.

By the way, both Joshua and Jesus share the same name, though you may not realize it because we derive Joshua's name through the Hebrew and the name of Jesus through its Greek translation. Both are named Yeshua, which means "God rescues," "God delivers," "God saves." That name expresses God's profound desire for all people.

Stumbling blockheads

These words spoken by Jesus to applaud the work of others are worth serious reflection. If Jesus were speaking today these words might be addressed to those who have made an idol of their denomination. "For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward," Jesus said.5 There are people on our side, whether we agree with them about everything or not. They are working in the name of Jesus, and at least some of them will recognize you as working in the name of Jesus as well.

Some will use the term "unequally yoked" as a way of refusing to work side by side with others in the work of Jesus Christ if we don't first agree about every basic belief. They may insist on total agreement in all issues. They may specially refuse to work with non-Christians even though there are times we are all striving for the same goals.

But Jesus, continuing past this assertion that whoever is not against us is for us then seems to be warning us not to stand in their way. Listen carefully to these words:

If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.

Most of us would take these words as a warning not to harm children in any way, and I would emphasize that under no circumstances should we dilute this meaning. The children in our care, indeed, all children, all around the world, are precious in God's sight and we need to be in the forefront of protecting them.

But the words of Jesus often have more than one meaning, and in this context, it seems that Jesus is warning us against harming, alienating, disillusioning or turning away those who are taking the first steps to serve Jesus, whether they know it or not. Christian cliques can be most un-Christlike in their desire to circle the wagons and exclude people. These barriers may not be in the form of a creed or doctrinal statement. Body language can make a great stumbling block!

In Colonial Virginia, the church of George Washington's boyhood was typical in the way it separated Christians from each other. As historian Henry Wiencek explains:

One aspect of Christ Church's design is deeply symbolic of the era. The seating does not consist of rows of pews, but of twenty-two rectangular, high-backed stalls, each designated for a particular family. ... Families came in with their servants and slaves and sat together in isolation from the other congregants. The minister preached from a raised pulpit that allowed him to look down on his flock while they gazed up at him. ... ordinary folk could not even lay eyes on [fellow believers] as they worshiped.6

Let me add what should be obvious, but in our literal, word-parsing era, can be misunderstood. Exaggeration, called hyperbole, was a part of the speaking style among the people of God. The first Christians knew Jesus was not telling them literally to cut off a hand or poke out an eye. But the more literal-minded people of the Roman empire, speaking in legalistic Latin, did misunderstand. So the fourth century African theologian Augustine wrote:

Let none of you think, brothers [and sisters], that the Lord is here commending the cutting off of members. His meaning is that the incentive should be cut off, not the members. The causes which allure to sin are to be cut off, in order that our thought, borne up on the chariot of sight, may push toward the love of God, supported by the bodily senses.7

Welcome aboard

It's unlikely that we will come across someone wearing a piece of papyrus around their neck or around their wrist as protection against a headache or a fever. But there's no question that folks who may not have come to a full understanding of discipleship may wear a cross around their neck, quote a familiar verse from the Bible, enjoy one of your favorite hymns or be intrigued by a musical or movie that tells part of our story.

Don't put a stumbling block in their way as they take their first steps with Jesus simply because they don't agree with you about everything. God is leading all of us to a glorious destiny. Let's work together for the kingdom, since the work is plentiful and the laborers are few. God will sort things out in the proper time.

Trust me on this.