NRSV Matthew 12:29 Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property, without first tying up the strong man? Then indeed the house can be plundered. 30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
NRSV Mark 9:38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “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. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us.
NRSV Luke 9:49 John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” 50 But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you.”
After reading several versions of these passages and looking at commentaries written by people at various levels of prestige from St. Augustine to names I didn’t recognize this is my #1 question. Is Jesus speaking more about people outside the disciple’s experience of faith rather than those in opposition to Jesus? Is Jesus challenging us to check the balance of our focus on the relationship between doctrine and comfort?
Apparently doctrine is an age-old conflict. What if Jesus is speaking of people who operate outside the body of faith as we know it but don’t actually oppose Him? What if Jesus’ emphasis is about “tying up the strong man” with dependence on doctrine, rather than Himself. Can that be what makes the “strong man’s house” vulnerable to plunder? What if these three passages reveal the very words of Jesus that lead us from doctrine to comfort?
That makes sense to me when I read the Mark and Luke versions of this passage. I feel like I can read between the lines of John’s words in Mark. Sure the man is “casting out demons in your name” but how can what he’s doing possibly be OK “because he was not following us”? John’s concern for the corporate integrity of their ministry was real. Jesus matches his assurance to John with the same group-inclusive pronoun, “us.” “Whoever is not against US is for US.”
John’s invested his own life and identity in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus knew the question of integrity was still very personal to John. John’s own conflict was finding the comfort between doing things the way they “should” be done [doctrine?] and his commitment to the ministry of Jesus. Jesus words from Luke challenged John to move from doctrine to the exclusive assurance of comfort of a personal pronoun, “you.’ “Whoever is not against YOU is for YOU.”
2 Corinthians 1:3 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. 4 He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. 5 For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. 6 Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. 7 We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us. [NLT]
This passage is remarkable for the number of times some form of the word “comfort” is used in just five verses. Certainly that’s repeated for emphasis. The need for comfort is more frequent that we realize and that need doesn’t always look the same. Sometimes what comfort looks like turns out to be a surprise too. We know “God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort” but when faced with a heart in need it “takes one to know one.”
Comfort is the presence of one needy heart’s response in humility to the need of another. It may take the more familiar form of shared scars of experience, love, grace, compassion, Scripture and prayer…OR sometimes it may just take a plate of cookies
Let your heart respond…”when they are troubled…give them the same comfort God has given us.” Comfort is not meant to be the solution. Comfort is the revelation of Jesus from one heart to another and He’s the solution.
Jesus was a revolutionary, who did not become an extremist, since he did not offer an ideology, but Himself.” Henri Nouwen from The Wounded Healer
6. Matthew 6:9 This, then, is how you should pray:..[“For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”]
I was surprised to discover the familiar last line I know of the Lord’s Prayer is only footnoted in many versions of the Bible. There’s a complicated issue of texts, dates and translations but the bottom line is many Christians have used it in worship since about 90AD when the Bible was completed. [click here for more details]
The words “familiar” and “complicated” in the same paragraph seem important to me. Familiar is comfortable and that’s what makes it complicated. I’m often quite comfortable in this complicated world. It’s easy to remember this is definitely not heaven…but forget it’s still part of God’s kingdom. He’s given familiar things to remind me His glory can be found even in such a complicated place. There’s comfort in the power of his Word and prayers to strengthen my desire to pray for the assurance he will unite our today with His forever.
Psalms 23:1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. [NIV]
This Psalm may not be as familiar today as it was in past generations but it’s clearly a lovely word-picture that describes Sanctuary: a place of comfort, refuge and safety. Sanctuary is no longer an external place to search for. Our life in Christ has become that place of Sanctuary within us. That sacred internal place of comfort, refuge and safety the Psalmist describes in his prayer can become our reality too, with practice.
That’s a fact but there’s another reality. We need the practice of Sanctuary to cure us of sanctimony so when we pray “I lack nothing” it doesn’t sound like I have it and you don’t. Sanctimony is defined as pretended, affected, or hypocritical religious devotion. I found this quote on vocabulary.com “Sanctimonious is a twist on the words sanctity and sacred, which mean holy or religious. A sanctimonious person might think he’s holy, but their attitude comes across more like “holier-than-thou.” I suspect all of you have been there with me at some point. Remember that line from the Lord’s Prayer? “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us.” I think we could substitute sanctimony for trespasses there. Here’s where the danger of sanctimony is written.
Matthew 7:1 Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.[NIV]
God has saved us to that beautiful place of refreshment where the reality is when we pray “I lack nothing” it’s because everything sacred is available to us. It’s a place of safety and refuge where Sanctuary guides us “along the right paths for his name’s sake” and even can save us from the judgment our sanctimonious selves deserve.
Posted in Matthew, Practice, Psalms, Sunday
Tagged Comfort, Internal Place, Life in Christ, Refuge, Sacred, Safety, Sanctuary, Within You
49 Remember your word to your servant,
for you have given me hope.
50 My comfort in my suffering is this:
Your promise preserves my life.
51 The arrogant mock me unmercifully,
but I do not turn from your law.
52 I remember, Lord, your ancient laws,
and I find comfort in them.
53 Indignation grips me because of the wicked,
who have forsaken your law.
54 Your decrees are the theme of my song
wherever I lodge.
55 In the night, Lord, I remember your name,
that I may keep your law.
56 This has been my practice:
I obey your precepts.
ז Zayin – Weapon
Look at this definition of weapons: “a means of gaining an advantage or defending oneself in a conflict or contest.”
Our recent history of events has given us terrible images of the reality of weapons used for violent and random destruction. Even in the midst of that murderous mayhem and death “defense” is the cry for the need to have personal weapons. That choice is our mistake but it may well be a metaphor of Zayin.
Many have decided the “means of gaining an advantage or defending oneself in a conflict or contest” is to justify those weapons. The Psalmist writes of recognizing the need to depend on a defense that’s much harder to recognize and accept; a radically different list of defensive weapons that justifies us instead…God’s law.
That “law” is the Word that gives hope and promises that preserve life and give comfort in suffering in the midst of this human conflict. Those are the Psalmists’ weapons. They can become the defense of our life too; wherever we are and whenever we need them because we remember and practice them.