If you are not with me…

…you are against me!

In that famous scene from Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, Anakin Skywalker stares at Obi-Wan Kenobi with fierce eyes and quotes… Jesus? In an ever-so-subtle slight against Christianity, Star Wars puts a version of Christ’s words in Darth Vader’s mouth when he says, “If you are not with me, then you are my enemy.” Now, Vader does not take Christ’s full words to heart, for he neglects the command to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44). Yes, it would appear that choking your wife, slicing political opponents, threatening the galaxy, and being an absent father do not seem to be in line with what Christ has in view of the good Christian life. Nevertheless, this scene from Star Wars prompted me to dig a little deeper and try to understand what Christ means when this with/against clause gets used.

I was surprised to find out, when looking through Scripture, that there are two seemingly similar variations of the same quote. The one Vader alludes to seems to be closest to the wording from Matthew’s Gospel wherein Christ teaches, “he who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters” (Matt 12:30). The quote from Mark’s gospel strikes a different tone: “For whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:40). While still dividing people into the camp of those for Christ and those against Him, the difference in these phrases and their context in the passage proved a helpful reflection for me that I wanted to share here. I will first give the context of each passage before I dive into my understanding of these passages as of now.

Mark 9: 38-41

“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. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ, will by no means lose his reward.”

In Mark we have the situation where a man who was “not following us” was still casting out demons in the name of Christ. Someone who is “not following” Christ seems to do pretty well by Jesus’s own words. One thing that does seem to be introduced here is the concept of time in salvation. This non-follower is someone who should not be forbidden from speaking up and casting demons because, in the future, he will not speak evil of Christ. Just as we have the understanding of sin as contagious illness, perhaps we see the infectious nature of grace here as well. 

Matthew 12:22-32

Then they brought to Him a demoniac who was blind and mute; and He cured him, so that the one who had been mute could speak and see. All the crowds were amazed and said, ‘Can this be the Son of David?’ But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, ‘It is only by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons, that this fellow casts out the demons.’ He knew what they were thinking and said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? If I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your own exorcists cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you. Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property, without first tying up the strong man? Then indeed the house can be plundered. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, people will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

While this passage is packed with many great quotes, I want to focus on the connection between Matthew’s rendering of the phrase in its context. The Pharisees charge Christ with being Bellzebul (the ruler of demons) in order to cast out the demons he casts out. Christ first calls out the logic of the Pharisees, saying how it makes no sense that demons would stand divided against themselves. He then moves on to say that it is by the power of God he casts out demons, throws in our quote of the day, and moves on to connect this discussion with the sin against the Spirit. Similar to the man in Mark, it is safe to assume that the Pharisees in this passage were not followers of Christ. As such, they are placed into the category of being against Christ, while our man in Mark is not against him. Why?

I don’t have so much a solid answer as two thoughts that I would appreciate feedback on. First, Christ in Matthew’s passage seems to focus on a challenge to those of us who claim to follow God. A challenge that claims, though we claim to follow Christ, we often are divided in our hearts. This division puts us fighting against the God who we claim to serve. I believe Jesus connects this to the sin against the Spirit called out, that we are in the most risky waters with actual respect to God. My second thought from this is that when we assume we are with God and build up walls around any possible fraternal correction from our brothers and sisters in Christ, we could find ourselves in the place of the Pharisees. One is closest to being the man in Mark when one has the heart of the seeker who is on path to find Christ but just not there yet. The passage right after the one quoted in Mark is where Christ condemns those of his followers who lead others into sin. As such, I see Christ warning the Church that we should be careful and open before condemning a seeker. It would be better “for him if a great milestone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea” (Mark 9:42) than to cause another to sin. [1]


[1] The full passage: “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea”


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