Reflection on the Lectionary: Mark 9:38-50
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from


Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)

Reflection on the Lectionary: Mark 9:38-50
(September 27, 2009)

Who Should Cast Out Demons?

This passage begins, “John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ’Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us. . .’”
Jesus endorsed those who participated in his ministry, even if they were not orthodox followers of his movement. Nevertheless, Christianity has been marred by sectarian conflict. There have been countless wars among people who claim to be followers of Christ but cannot countenance each other’s views on ritual or theology, even though the differences are usually relatively minor. Similarly, Christians have frequently found themselves at war with people of other faiths who share similar core values as Christians. Many of these non-Christians also aim to “cast out demons” in the name of God. Indeed, Jesus seemed to endorse anyone who did good works, saying, “For he that is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:40). Outside observers have great difficulty understanding why similarly minded religious groups are often in conflict. Why are people of faith so frequently intolerant of differing views?
Perhaps one reason relates to the problem that the components of “faith” are, by definition, things about which we cannot have scientific proof.  We want certainty about the great existential questions – Where did I come from? Why am I here? What happens to me after I die? Since many people find science’s answers inadequate, they turn to religious faith for guidance. I admire many people with great faith who commit their lives to the answers that religion provides, as long as those answers relate to compassion. However, certainty is a state of mind and not necessarily a state of knowledge, and I think we must humbly accept that there is great mystery about our existence.
I think that non-believers have a point when they assert that the very articles of faith about which people want certainty are among the most tenuous. To my reading, applying this passage from Mark to today’s pluralistic world, we should support those who follow Jesus’ ways by doing good works, even if the faith that inspires them differs from our own. I have no quarrel with anyone who is strong in faith, as long as that faith encourages compassion. We run into problems when people, in an attempt to “defend” their faith, find it necessary to disparage or even destroy other people’s religious traditions. 

Go on to: Reflection on the Lectionary: Mark 10:2-16
Return to: Reflection on the Lectionary, Table of Contents 

Return to Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion