DON’T YOU SEE THE PRETTY CLOUDS
by Hugh Farquhar
Eighteenth after Pentecost: Mark 9:38-50.
One day, Jesus’ disciple, John, was in a flap!
Bothered and agitated, he came to Jesus to vent his concern. “Teacher,” he said, “we saw someone helping people in your name; but he’s not one of us! He doesn’t belong to our group. He doesn’t formally follow us as the established leadership of your movement. We tried to stop him, but he paid us no attention. You’ve got to do something about it. What are you going to do about it? We don’t know what to do about it.”
Jesus, in a relaxed manner, responded, “John, don’t try to stop him. Lighten up! He’s doing no harm and if he does it for good, it works for God. Whoever is not against us is for us.”
John was more concerned about the credentials of the doer than the quality of the deed. Jesus was less concerned about the status of the carer than the quality of the caring.
“Whoever is not against us is for us.” In other words, wherever concern and compassion are expressed, there is an ally to his spirit. We ought not to get too hung up about its source, for love sometimes springs from the most unexpected places. We ought not to worry too much about what label caregivers wear, for kindness is not the exclusive property of the religious establishment. Jesus was advocating tolerance in this regard over against judgmentalism and exclusivism. He was standing by the truth of the proverb familiar to us that “where love is, God is.”
I think this text calls all followers of the Way to stand side by side and shoulder to shoulder with anyone who is on the side of love and justice, regardless of our disagreements.
There’s another aspect to this incident. It has to do with the feeling level of the exchange between John and Jesus. John comes off as being very uptight about the situation, whereas Jesus appears to be “laid back.” John is all in a stew about this unauthorized person. Jesus says, “Don’t worry about it. Anyone who’s not against us, albeit unwittingly, is with us.” In the main, Jesus encouraged a less stressful, and anxiety ridden approach.
David Miller, an astute theologian, was reading a heavy theological work in his study at home. His five-year-old daughter knocked on the door and said, “I want to come in.” Annoyed, the professor slammed down his book, stomped to the door and barked “All right, come in!” His daughter’s response: “No!” “All right, stay out!” She said, “no!” Agitated while standing by the open door, he spoke tersely, “Either you must come in or you must stay out. Which shall it be? There are no alternatives, dear.” With this the child gazed calmly into the summer sky outside the huge picture window in the study and whispered quietly to her father, “But Daddy, don’t you see the pretty clouds?”
So often in life and religion we have an uptight approach. Everything must be cut and dried. It’s this or that. It’s such a serious business. But there are alternatives. Jesus turns that approach upside down and turns our eyes to pretty clouds and lilies in the field, to laughter and love and parties for forgiven sons, to children climbing all over us, and to traveling a little lighter on this earth.
Hugh Farquhar is Minister Emeritus at St. Paul’s United Church, Riverview, NB and teaches Biblical Studies in the Diploma in Theological Studies Program at Atlantic School of Theology. Halifax, NS.