- C. S. Lewis (adapted)
John spoke up, “Teacher, we saw a man using your name to expel demons and we stopped him because he wasn’t in our group.” Jesus wasn’t pleased. “Don’t stop him. No one can use my name to do something good and powerful, and in the next breath cut me down. If he’s not an enemy, he’s an ally. Why, anyone by just giving you a cup of water in my name is on our side. Count on it that God will notice. “On the other hand, if you give one of these simple, childlike believers a hard time, bullying or taking advantage of their simple trust, you’ll soon wish you hadn’t. You’d be better off dropped in the middle of the lake with a millstone around your neck.
- Mark 9:38-42 (The Message)
How does one identify a Christian? What a silly question, some might respond. They can be spotted easily in a church pew every Sunday (or at least most Sundays). They are respectable, upstanding and, importantly, they stay out of trouble. They serve on committees, they write checks (sometimes big checks), and they don’t make waves by pressing our envelope too much.
Some would go further than that. Christians, they respond, fit into our group. They share our beliefs closely, look like us, talk like us, share our cultural values (and sometimes even political), and on and on and on.
On the basis of these criteria, it should be a piece of cake to identify a Christian. The disciples of Jesus certainly thought it was easy to spot their allies, those who could be considered part of their group. But Jesus would have none of this. For him, the mark of disciples has nothing to do with social status, the group they run with, their familiarity with doctrine and correct comportment. For Jesus, it’s simple: they live their lives to some extent on the basis of compassion. They may not have a good grasp of all that means; they may be naïve; they may even be unsure of what they are doing and why. For Jesus, an act as simple as offering a cup of water is an act of faith… and God will notice such faith.
Wow! What a broad, inclusive society of faith. How did Jesus put it? “If he’s not an enemy, he’s an ally” (I don’t think Jesus would disagree with saying “he or she”). Our criteria narrow the field a whole bunch. Our criteria guarantee that the society remains secret. Jesus’ criteria sketch a big tent, a not-so-secret society. The only thing secret about this society, as Lewis points out, is based on the fact that Christians don’t call attention to themselves, and they don’t fit the stereotypes we insist upon, and they don’t conform to our expectations. Thus, they are hard to spot.
Perhaps we can learn something from Jesus (what a novel idea) and C. S. Lewis, and welcome into our "society" all those compassionate people who are not our enemies. It’s a tall order, but it might just be worth the effort.