Jesus made it clear to the disciples in Luke 9:50. “But Jesus said to him, ‘Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you.” Mark expands the thought. “But Jesus said; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will soon be able to speak a word against me. Whoever is not against us is for us.'” (9:39-40) It appears straight forward then to say, Jesus has other people doing good in the world even if they are not among the Church. But, of course, Matthew has a different idea. Matthew says, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” (12:30) When we look at a parallel statement in Luke we get the same words. “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” (Luke 11:23)
The Against Text
Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell the story of Jesus being accused of sorcery. His detractors claim he is using demonic power to drive away demons. Jesus claims they have blasphemed the Holy Spirit and such an act is unforgiveable. Matthew and Luke attach the statement about people who are not with Jesus being against him.
Interpreting and applying this statement has as much to do with transmission of the text as the context of it in the texts. We see that Matthew and Luke used Mark. Therefore, the both writers could have chosen to tell the story of the outsider using the name of Jesus. Luke does. Matthew does not. Why?
I recently wrote about Matthew as a gospel for refugees. The harsh tone of the book reflects the resentment of rejection. The words “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” can be attributed to another source New Testament scholars refer to as Q. We know nothing about the context of these words in that source. We may assume it is in that source attached to the story to which Matthew and Luke attach it. The resentment of rejection is as clear in Luke as in Matthew.
The For Text
Why does Mark not use it? It can be argued he knew nothing about it. But the issue may be different. The preaching of the disciples and their followers included various sayings of Jesus. Writing them down from time to time would be a natural act for the cultural Greeks of the 1st century. Before there is a source, the sayings of Jesus would be formed by continued repetition. One can easily argue Mark knew about it.
Mark demonstrates Jesus overcoming situations and rejections that would produce resentment in most of us. His mother and brothers claim he is insane. Jesus replies those who do the will of God are his family. Experiencing rejection without becoming resentful requires spiritual strength most people never have. Matthew appears resentful. His birth narrative is rather dark with intrigues, mass murder, and flight. Luke gives us the basic Christmas story with which we are familiar. It reflects neglect and injustice. But the main participants, Mary, Zachariah, Elizabeth, and the Shepherds rejoice knowing that God’s righteousness is being revealed.
Who may share in the promised joy? Luke says anyone can. But not everyone wants it or to share in it. Some will be against Jesus and his followers. Most, however, will not.
Jesus has rivals. There are people in the Gospels doing the opposite of what Jesus wants to do. “Those who do not gather with me scatters.” Other people are against the work of God. How should Jesus’ followers deal with such people? Jesus and John the Baptist begin their ministries with calls for repentance and restoration. Another option is to ignore them. Jesus simply walked away from some sticking situations. Primarily, though, he engaged with his rivals up to a certain point.
Jesus put them in parables too. “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them.” (Matthew 21:45) The parable of the landowner and the tenants of the vineyard could be considered revolutionary except for the fact it was told against reactionaries. Jesus uses a strategy of exposing evil people with their own words and actions. His followers had to learn this method by retelling the parables and understanding them.
What To Do
How should we apply apparently contradictory teachings? Many who would not support us are not necessarily against us. They are not for us either. They are merely indifferent. The key is looking at what is behind the reason for the text. Why was it written in the first place? In what situations could we apply it. Should open doors be closed on occasion? Perhaps, there is a good reason to close them.
The two teachings considered here require us to judge our own situation before applying them. Is there active opposition? Or is there indifference being practiced? Recently, protestors gathered outside a church. The protest was not against the church. The pastor, however, took some pains to make sure the community understood the protestors did not reflect the values of the church. The pastor went around them to social media and using the church sign to make statements that opposed what the protestors were upheld. Protestors for hate would scatter in some form if they found themselves under a sign that said, “All Are Welcome.”