I’ll be taking a break from blogging to focus on our new son, Jack Akira Kato. I’m not sure when or if I’ll be back to it; until I write or see you again, I am, as always, yours in Christ,
In Luke 16, Jesus tells a story. Perhaps you’ve heard it before:
There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.” But Abraham said, “Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.” And he said, “Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.” But Abraham said, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” And he said, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” He said to him, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”
Do you know who we are in this story? We are not the rich man. We are not Lazarus. We are the brothers: We’re still alive, still able to respond one way or the other. We have Moses and the prophets; we have more than enough to decide to follow God. Poor men lean against our own gates, and we must decide who we will be–like our rich brother, or somehow like the rich man should have been?
This has confused me for a long time. In two stories, only pages apart, Jesus seems to contradict himself. First this happens:
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.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.”
Yet, this happens just two chapters later:
Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven. But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
So, which is it Jesus? Are those who are not against you with you? Are those not with you against you? The neutral person thought he was neither for nor against Jesus, but Jesus seems to think of him as somehow both for and against. You can see why I’ve been confused.
However, as I was reading chapter 11 this morning, something new became clear: In chapter 9, Jesus is talking to disciples who need to be rebuked for excluding genuine partners, and he rebukes them for excluding genuine partners. In chapter 11, Jesus is talking to opponents who need to be warned that their rejection of him does not go unnoticed, and he warns them that their rejection of him does not go unnoticed.
Because Jesus says both things, we, as Jesus’ followers, shouldn’t choose one to the exclusion of the other as our mantra. We shouldn’t choose the “open” understanding of the Church–the one who is not against you is for you–and forget the latter. We shouldn’t choose the “closed” understanding of the Church–whoever is not with me is against me–and forget the former.
The best we can probably do is remember, on the one hand, that Jesus told the world, “whoever is not with me is against me.” This remains true, soberingly so. On the other hand, we must also remember that Jesus told his disciples (that is, us), “the one who is not against you is for you“–probably because, like John, we are faulty judges of who is for and against Jesus. Jesus himself is a perfect judge of who is for and against him, and it will matter in the end. However: In this age, as we are not, we should err toward generosity (while believing that the truth will be shown in the end), knowing it is not our right or responsibility to make the call today.