“for whoever is not against us is for us”- Mark 9:40
"he who is not with me is against me”- Matthew 12:30
What do you think? What’s Jesus saying here? Do these statements mean essentially the same thing or do they somehow contradict each other?
I know some people who use these kinds of verses to point out how contradictory and illogical the Bible is, easily dismissing it as fiction.
On the other hand, I know Christians who use this apparent incongruity to emphasize how inscrutable the infinite God is (and by association, Jesus) and how he can simultaneously embody conflicting natures.
The Markan line has been used by some Christians to encourage a faith that is more tolerant of different beliefs while others have used the verse from Matthew to stress the sole legitimacy of the Christian religion. But, as a friend of mine recently asked, is it fair to emphasize one aspect of Jesus’ teachings while ignoring another aspect that we may find less appealing (or more appalling)?
I would like to suggest that both of Jesus’ remarks encourage religious tolerance. Though they may seem contradictory, they are answers to two entirely different questions that are closely related. And in typical Jesus fashion, he addresses both in the same ‘spirit’.
In Mark, Jesus is responding to a complaint that an ‘outside’ healer is performing miracles apart from him. In Matthew, Jesus’ response is to the religious leaders who are accusing him of using Satanic (or pagan) powers to perform miracles apart from God. Both of Jesus’ answers are flip sides of the same spiritual coin.
In each case Jesus seems to be saying that good works are always the work of God. Seen in this light, then Jesus’ cryptic follow-up statement in Matthew – that one can be forgiven for denying Jesus, but not forgiven for denying the "Spirit" – points towards religious tolerance.
After all, who is closer to embracing and following God’s spirit ? A Christian who is uncharitable, selfish, proud and envious (me) or a "pagan" who is selfless, sacrificial and humble? Who is more closely following the narrow path to salvation?