Moses was having a bad day, probably a bad week or more. The people of Israel had been freed from slavery Egypt, delivered from the army of pharaoh and were being fed in the wilderness with manna. They are safe in the Sinai peninsula, but could only think of the good food they had left behind forgetting about the reality of their slavery. So they whine and complain to Moses, and Moses having had enough of them complains to God.
God’s answer is to give Moses help – though one might even say help came in the form a committee. Elders are appointed to help Moses – Invitations are issued to 70 and they are summoned to the tent where they are commissioned by the spirit of God.
But Eldad and Medad though invited skipped the meeting. They remained in camp. The spirit finds them even in camp and they begin to prophesy in camp – a sign of their appointment as an anointed elder… The message comes to Aaron they are prophesying in camp…Aaron demands that Moses stop them – after all they have not followed the rules – they have not been at the meeting – they did not hear the rules and learn the secret handshake of being an elder… they did not follow Standard operating procedure. Aaron wants their status revoked. God is to play by Aaron’s rules… But Moses understands it really does not work that way.
The Gospel has a similar story line. The apostle John reports to Jesus that they saw someone healing in Jesus name and they tried (obviously unsuccessfully) to stop him – why – because he was not one of us. Jesus told them not to stop the man, because whatever good is done in Jesus’ name would put him in a situation of not speaking evil of the Lord. Jesus concluded, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” That is certainly a very different message from that which is current in our society “whoever is not with us is against us.”
The 12 wanted to maintain the Jesus franchise for themselves (just like Aaron) and not let this interloper horn in on their work and status as Jesus inner circle.
What Jesus taught his disciples is equally a lesson for us. Christians cannot fence themselves off from others who have different ways of following Jesus and of finding God. The one who is not against us is for us.
Jesus has given us a model for a broader view. His example of openness and acceptance helps us stop when we fall into the all too common trap of thinking in terms of “us” and “them”.
Jesus’ words remind us that Christianity is not the preserve of a privileged few. No one seeking to do the Lord’s work is an outsider. We are reminded to welcome all people who are willing to join the journey. One reason I am an Episcopalian is that we take seriously Jesus’ words reminding us to be including – not excluding. Our God is not small or exclusive…
Occasionally conscience and practicality may dictate that we separate ourselves from others, but at the very least, we should not do so lightly – we are not to draw a line in the sand except as a last resort. We work against the temptation to believe that “for me to be right, anyone who disagrees with me must be wrong.” Jesus seems to suggest that we look for commonality. Don’t jump to the conclusion that difference creates an us against them situation.
Jesus in effect warns us against simplistic solutions to complex problems. We see that truth is always bigger than any one person’s, or any one group’s grasp of it. Jesus cautions us against inflexibility of thought or deed. He helps us embrace what is so easy to forget: that diversity is not only good; it is absolutely essential for the health of the Body of Christ.
Today’s readings reinforces that what we need in the church is less “either/or” and more “both/and.”
Where do we find commonality? Begin by looking to our earliest roots? Those who can follow the steps of Jesus, taking up their crosses and denying themselves for the sake of God and God’s children are not against us, and therefore are for us, and for Christ.
The story of Aaron and this week’s reading from the gospel of Mark are about the attempt to draw a circle – shutting out the ones who doing good differently.
Perhaps a concise, powerful poem by Edwin Markham illustrates that what Jesus meant that those who are not against us are for us.
In his poem “Outwitted,” Edwin Markham writes:
“He drew a circle that shut me out –
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in.”