So here’s my question: What does it mean to be a “Christian”? Is it a set of one or more beliefs you agree to? Is it one or more rules for how we are to live in the world? Is it being a good person? Is it something else?
Ask three Christians to answer that question and you’re likely to get five different answers.
But one thing we all know for sure, and that’s that our way of being Christian is right, which means their way is obviously wrong (whoever “they” are). That’s sarcasm, by the way. . .
Bible scholars say that the gospel writer of Mark included this little section because the people of Mark’s own congregation were likely all pretty much in agreement about following Jesus, but then met people from another congregation who believed, lived, trusted in Jesus differently. An argument broke out; one that hasn’t stopped yet.
Isn’t that one of Christianity’s weaknesses? That we just can’t get along with each other? Instead of supporting — or even learning from — each other, we turn our Christian faith into a competition.
So the disciples complain in this gospel that someone else is doing it wrong. They found someone who was casting out demons in Jesus’ name, but wasn’t part of their group. They believed, then, that this wayward disciple of Jesus must be stopped. There must be an end to his activity, because something about it must be wrong.
So who’s right? Which way of being Christian is best? Who is the most devout follower of Jesus? Jesus answers this by telling them that whoever gives you even just a cup of water because you are bear the name of Christ is right. He says that whoever even gets in the way of anyone who believes in Jesus is wrong.
And he says this in the strongest terms possible: drowning and cutting of limbs is better than getting in the way of anyone’s discipleship. Apparently Jesus thinks this is kind of important! If you tell someone their way of following Jesus is inferior to yours, you are getting in their way. Instead of competing with them over whose version is better, give them a cup of water to drink.
These verses today are right in the middle of a whole bunch of stuff about serving others in humility, that the greatest one is the servant, that the ones who don’t matter actually matter the most, the last are actually first. The thing that matters to Jesus seems to be that his followers be the ones taking care of the least, the lost, the littlest ones, and not competing with each other about who’s the greatest or who’s the best disciple, or who’s beliefs are most orthodox.
Whether or not you agree with all the practices and beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church, is there any doubt about the discipleship of Pope Francis as he’s made his way along the eastern part of the US?
Many of you know I grew up in Utah, and one of the favorite topics of conversation is whether or not Mormons are really Christian. I’ve taken an active role in those arguments over the years, I’m embarrassed to say.
How much time I’ve wasted! While I was arguing with someone about who are “real” Christians, many of my Mormon friends were out serving their neighbors. While I was busy perfecting my true Christan theology, many of my Mormon friends were going around the world talking about their faith. Whoever gives even a cup of water in my name, Jesus says, will not lose their reward.
Apparently being a Christian is more about serving the least than having better beliefs. It’s more about loving the unloved than following rules. It’s more about bringing water to a thirsty person than being first and best. Maybe all Jesus wants out of us is to love others the way God loves us.
So, yeah, let the guy cast out demons! Why would you stop him? Because he isn’t part of our elite group? Because he believes differently? Because emphasizes different things than we do? No! Regardless of how much the disciples may disagree with his theology, he’s helping a demon-possessed person while they’re arguing about who the real followers of Jesus are!
So, what does it mean to be a Christian? Maybe the answer is that we should quit arguing about it. Maybe following Jesus is broader than my way of doing it. Maybe I could learn something new about serving in Jesus’ name from someone who believes differently. Maybe there’s someone who would be better served by a cup of water than by a confession of faith.
Maybe being a Christian is just as simple as Jesus makes it out to be: love God, love your neighbor.