“Beware of Public Displays” Matthew 6:1-6; 16-21

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.”

So begins Jesus in this Gospel lesson that we hear every Ash Wednesday, and when I hear Jesus say it this year, I find myself thinking, “No, I think I’d like a little more public piety, please!”

Maybe it’s just my age showing.  I’m now a year into this “grandpa” zone but there are trends and tendencies in the world that I grow weary of.  I long for, well not things as they once were so much, as for how I once perceived them to be.


More wholesome.

Less edgy.

Maybe a little practicing of public piety was not such a bad thing.

I think that to myself when the latest hot new music sensation hits the stage in their various stages of undress.  Body contorted, accentuating the sexual, wisps of sheer fabric barely covering the essentials, suggestive looks, wagging tongues, pouting lips.

“We could do with a little more public piety.” I find myself murmuring under my breath.

The messages sent by this youth obsessed, over-sexualized culture are not ones that lead to life.  They lead to excess, and the pushing of boundaries, and to levels of dissatisfaction with body image and type and talent that seem to be never ending.

Maybe a little public piety, some restraint, some different modeling would be in order, would correct this seemingly never ending spiral.

I flip through the television channels and I’m assaulted by the latest round of violence.  Zombies come at me, teen angst vampires creep in the night, along with other things that go bump and will not die.  The Nazi’s are back. Corrupt politicians and corrupted soldiers and intelligence offices lurk under the civilized seams of every city. “Blacklist” blood bathes abound until I come across an oldies channel and an episode of “Highway to Heaven” or “Touched by an Angel” and I think to myself, “We could do with a little more public piety.”

We could do with some public displays of people who were simple, or where God was intimately engaged in the everyday struggles of life, reaching out to us.   The messages sent by so many shows these days seems to be get your own gun and make it a bigger one, because you are on your own son.

We could do with a little public piety, a display of what it looks like to believe that God is directing your every move, and that God is wholeheartedly in your corner and on your side and because of that you can do no wrong.

Something like that, that is just what this weary world needs right now.

And then in my stumbling through the television channels I happen on a report about ISIS.   And I think to myself, ooops!

I flip through the channels and I see film clips of the March on Selma and see the KKK lined up, self-assured in their belief, and ready to make their public display of piety, and again I think to myself, Oooops!

I missed the most important part of Jesus’ phrase.  “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them;”

That is when piety has no power, when it is done simply as a show.   Whether  are a Pharisee, or a Terrorist, or a “goody two shoes;” pious actions done simply as a show for others, or to somehow influence others, or to impose our will and standards or mores on others do not transform.

They don’t transform others.

But more importantly, those pious public actions don’t transform you.

And so, we do this strange thing tonight, this act  of public piety, of ashes on the forehead, but we don’t do it for show, and we don’t do it to make any kind of public statement, and we certainly don’t do it because it’s the hot, cool, “in” thing to do.

No, we do it as a reminder.

The smudge goes on where the waters of baptism flowed, reminding us that while washed and clean in God’s eyes, sin still has the power to mar us, and mark us, and mess us up.

The smudge goes on in the shape of the cross, tracing where the oil of anointing once proclaimed that we were “sealed with the cross of Christ and marked by the Holy Spirit forever!”

And, that is still true!

But the smudge of ash upon that cross on our forehead reminds us that though marked and sealed, we are still capable of doing evil when we forget who and whose we are.

The ash goes on to remind us that we dust, and to dust we shall return.   We are fearfully and wonderfully made, little less than God, but that “little less” is huge!  And so we mark ourselves with ash to remind ourselves of our own limitation, lest we think that by our own public displays of righteousness, or rectitude we could fix this world ourselves and shape it to our own liking.   We could at least make it, well let’s see….

At least simpler.

More wholesome.

Less edgy.

“Beware of practicing your piety before others, in order to be seen by them.”  Jesus warns, and with good reason.  We are ever tempted to think that we have all the answers.

We are ever tempted to believe that our will is the one that must be done.

The temptation before us ever is to act as if our visions for mission, or for this world, or for what should and should not happen are the right ones and if only we could impose OUR will, things would be better, perfect, as they should be.

We mark ourselves with Ash this night, to remind ourselves above all, that we are not God, and that we do indeed need a savior, and most often we need particularly someone who will save us from ourselves.

That’s what I need to see, my own face reflected back as I flip the channels, ash marked.

It’s not more public piety that this world needs, but rather it is a savior, and that Savior is Jesus.  The Ash upon my forehead reminds me that the savior this world is certainly not me and my will imposed upon it.

“Let the Mystery Stand” Mark 9:2-9

We have a “Love/Hate” relationship with the mysterious.

On the one hand, we are often drawn to the unexplained.   If you put up a video of a ghostly apparition, or tell a spooky tale, or mention a report of “UFO” in the night sky our interest is instantly peaked.  “Oooo, tell me more!”

But, at the same time, that interest is most often peaked not so much to let the mystery be, as it is to somehow solve it.

“You saw a ghostly apparition?   Well you know, it must have been this, or must have been that…….” We are quick to speculate and fill in the possibilities.

Hear a spooky story?    That launches all kinds of folks into research of the veracity of the story, the characters, and the events.   Did that really happen, or is this some campfire story meant to scare, or a fabrication of the actual events?

“UFO’s?”    The meteorologists, astronomers, and air traffic control folks scan the possibilities until they find a satisfactory explanation: a weather balloon, low flying jet near a government test facility, a meteor shower, etc.

You see what I mean here.

We love to have the idea that there are still mysteries in this world, and then we promptly jump in to trying to solve them!

We like the romance of the mysterious, we just don’t like letting it stand as an unexplained event.

This is part of our difficulty with the Transfiguration story as it is recounted in the Gospels.  One cannot read or hear this story without trying to engage it in an explanatory fashion.

We want to know what the significance was of Moses and Elijah, and so we go searching through scriptures to find their importance for this kind of event.

Was it because they didn’t die, but were taken up by God?

Do they symbolize the Law and the Prophets?

Are there overtones of Messianic expectations?

We dive in with both feet to “solve” the problem of figuring out who they were to ancient Israel, or to the Judea of Jesus’ day, and we think that if we can figure that out we can explain the transfiguration!

Or, we look to the details of Jesus’ appearance, and the voice booming from the heavens, and try to work out what kind of a “God revealing” moment this is.

Is it connected to Jesus’ Baptism?

Does it signify future event, give a glimpse of the resurrected body?

How about those booths that Peter wants to make?  What is that all about?

See, we no sooner hear the mysterious account than we are trying to debunk it, or solve it, or seek the “true” meaning of it.

But what if the transfiguration of Jesus has no single meaning?

What if, transfiguration, like really all apparitions of God not meant to have symbolic meaning, but rather emotional and transcendent meaning?   What if this story is there simply for those who experience it for the experience itself?

In other words, this thing happened, and those we saw it were deeply affected by it, and felt compelled to talk about it, and they were never quite the same afterwards, but there is no neat, tidy explanation of “what it meant.”

Witnessing the Transfiguration simply led to a transformation. It changed Peter, James and John, on that day, and then more in the days and weeks and years that followed as they kept looking back at the events of that moment when they saw or experienced “something” that changed them.

Such events are not limited to Peter, James and John.

The Apostle Paul will have his vision of the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus.

In fact, the history of Christian Mysticism is rife with such events, granted to all manner of people, from Joan of Arc to Hildegard of Bingen.   There are stories of visions of the Virgin Mary, or of the Risen Christ, sometimes coming to speak, and sometimes just as an appearance, and in the appearing somehow conferring some sign, some assurance or some sense of wonder upon that person who witnessed it.

One could argue such things continue to this day in the various sighting of the Madonna in a grotto, or Jesus appearing on the slice of toast or in the water stain that mysteriously appears on the wall.

We look at these events with a cold, skeptical eye and usually with the intent of figuring them out at best, or at worst debunking them for that person.   Let me show you how this is just a coincidence, or a freak of how the toaster element are aligned, or how the sprinklers were set and the iron content of the water.

Let me take away your mystery, you don’t really need it.  Following Jesus, believing in God is ultimately an act of ascent.   I “convince” you that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.

And maybe sometimes that is how it works.

But the Gospels are adamant here, that the experiential is every bit as important, and in this case necessary.

Jesus does this with intentionality.

It isn’t that Peter, James, and John “happened” upon Jesus in his private moment with Moses and Elijah.  No, Jesus intentionally singled them out, brought the up to this place for this very experience, even if they don’t know what to do with it or what it means!”

And then, to top it all off, Jesus doesn’t bother to explain it to them either.   “he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”

I’ve always read that as “you’ll make sense of this after the resurrection.”    But I’m not so sure that is the case.

Maybe this is the kind of thing that you never really make sense of, but that is somehow something that you look back upon with wonder and power, a moment that changed you, and set you on a whole new course.

I think we come close to glimpsing that ourselves, or at last knowing what that experience is like.

We are going to baptize little Aspen here today, and I cannot look at a baby without having a flashback to the birth of my own Son, and that experience of holding new life moments after the birth.

Such an event is transfiguring, it changes you forever.


Well, I’m not so sure I can tell you.  You really don’t know what it all means, and you have no idea what it will mean for the future but somehow after that event you are not the same.

You can look back on it, remember it, talk about it, but never quite recapture it.  Even if I could tell you all the details of the birth and the lead up and the labor, that isn’t what gives that moment meaning, and it certainly isn’t what changes you.

I can’t tell you what it all meant, but I know that my life was different from that moment on.

I haven’t had it yet, but I am told walking your daughter down the aisle on her wedding day is another such event.   It changes you.   You don’t know how exactly, and you can’t explain precisely what it all means but there is a transfiguration that takes place, as you behold that little girl you used to care for now being placed into the care of another.   Yes, it’s probably sexist thought, but who can explain transfigurations, when you suddenly behold the one before you utterly changed in your eyes, no longer your little girl.

Losing a spouse is a transfiguring event, and who can explain it?  The one you would always thought would be there, or the one you assumed would outlive you, or just the one you still expect to walk into the room.

Something has happened to you, you know it’s not rationale, you know they are gone and yet still there is a part of you that feels and senses and thinks you just heard their voice.   Those years spent together, the ties forged, the routines established have transfigured you, changed you in ways you never would have expected.

There is deep mystery in the matter of faith, and in following Jesus, and in all of this coming to terms with what Jesus did, and what Jesus intends to do, and what Jesus will do when he gets to Jerusalen, and what Jesus will leave you with after the events of Jerusalem, and death, and crucifixion, and resurrection.

 “He ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”

Maybe there are some things that you just don’t talk about, until the time is right.

Maybe there are some things that happen to you in your faith life that you will talk about later, and maybe some of those things will help make sense of your faith journey.

Maybe too, some of those things are just the things you look back on with wonder, recognizing that whatever it was that happened there, it changed you, and you are not the same anymore.

That is the appeal and the word of hope found in the Transfiguration story, because if nothing else it lets us glimpse that people can be changed.

God can reach in and in a sudden move or word, or vision, leave you dumbfounded,  or shining in glory.

We all want a little transfiguration, the assurance that we can be different, or that our true nature or self can shine through, or that God will make us into beings of light and hope and life.

I can’t explain how it will happen, and probably I’m not supposed to.

We let the mystery stand.  The mystery of faith, that Jesus invites us into, and does not explain, but simply promises.

We will speak of those things that happen to us, the things that changed us, guided us, moved us, led us up mountains and back down again.

We will speak of this God who is pleased with Jesus, and pleased with us.

We will have to let the mystery we encounter stand, as a gift to us.

“Jesus Has Been Here.” Mark 1:29-39

When my cousins Ron and Gary would come to our house to visit, we always had a good time, but there was also a price to pay for it.  They were my younger cousins, filled with spit and vinegar.    Whatever they did, they never did half way!  .

If we built forts out of hay bales in the barn, they weren’t content to simply build one fort for all of us to play in.   No, we had to build two opposing forts on each end of the barn and wage World War Three in between.   The game wasn’t over until one fort lay in ruins, bales broken and hay scattered everywhere.

If we rode bicycles, it wasn’t enough just to ride together.    We had to race, with opposing teams, and the game wasn’t over until someone had pressed beyond the threshold of pain and endurance and gotten a bit scraped up, or a bicycle a bit scratched up and bent.

If we played in the sandbox with our Tonka trucks and bulldozers, the confines of the sandbox were never enough.   The game wasn’t over until we had built a road the twenty five feet from my sandbox to the front sidewalk, etching out grass and excavating a couple of rivers complete with running water from the garden hose, and bridges made out of concrete blocks sunk down into the yard to span the river.    Picture walking out of your house to find that in your front yard!

We always had a good time, but these cousins of mine always left their indelible mark on the place.  After their visit, my dad would survey the landscape, shake his head and say, “Well, you can sure tell Gary and Ron were here!”

As the Gospel of Mark tells us about Jesus ministry, Mark tells us that Jesus also leaves a mark wherever he goes. Where Jesus goes, we are told, healing follows.   Today we read what happens when he “goes home from church” so to speak, with Simon and Andrew.  The events in the synagogue were amazing, but that turns out to be nothing compared to what happens when Jesus gets into people’s houses.

Simon’s mother-in-law is sick with a fever.  There’s nothing to indicate the seriousness of the illness, but in a day before doctors and medicine, getting well was the exception rather than the rule, and any illness was understood to be serious.   It is for sure enough to keep the woman of the house from performing her duties to serve as hostess.  As soon as Jesus finds out that she is ill, his first response is to go and heal her.  Her immediate response in return is to rise up and serve.

Where Jesus goes, healing follows, even into people’s homes.  That is significant because it means that the power of God is not limited to any special place or time.

Healing in the synagogue?   That’s possible.  Surely God should be present in a place dedicated to God, a place where God’s Word was meditated upon and taught.    Judaism is rife with accounts of healings taking place at the temple in Jerusalem.  It makes sense that where God chooses to be present, God’s healing power should be available.

But to find God at work in your home, now that’s a little different, because it tells us that where God chooses to be present is not in some designated holy place.

Where God chooses to be present — is with you!

Where God chooses to exert his power, is wherever you happen to be, even at home.

And, when that healing power of Jesus hits you, you find yourself able to do what is required and expected of you.  You find yourself able to rise and serve.

Where Jesus goes, healing follows, and the Gospel today tells us that Jesus seems to be willing to go home with you.   These people who are coming are good Jews who understand that healing is a form of work, and that Jewish law strictly forbids working on the Sabbath.    They wouldn’t dream of asking Jesus to do anything like this for them during Sabbath, but now that it’s over, now they come in droves, and Jesus heals them.

Now let your mind wander back over the visitors you’ve had in the past.   Did you ever have the neighbor kid show up in your back yard?   You know the one.   Maybe they looked like trouble. Maybe they had the parents who let their kids roam, and you used to curse under your breath about having to watch them.   Well, it might just be that Jesus was at your house and they could feel it.    It might be that your back yard was safer than their back yard.

They knew where to find healing.

You were the one with the plate of cookies.

You were the one who drove out the demons with which they otherwise had to live!

Don’t be surprised when people show up on your doorstep!  When Jesus is in your home, they will search to find him.   Keep that thought in the back of your mind this week.  Pay close attention to those visitors you get at your home, at your workplace, as you make your way around town.   Jesus is in your house, and those who are in need of healing can sense his healing presence within you, don’t be afraid to share it with them.

When I read this gospel, I’m also struck by how the cultural hindrances kept the whole town at bay until sundown.   Peter’s mother-in-law gets immediate relief.  How many others sweated in their beds all day long, waiting?  How many were in pain, and knew where healing was to be found, but because of the cultural restrictions of Sabbath waited, hesitated, couldn’t seek out Jesus.

It makes me wonder about our cultural hindrances.  What keeps us from asking Jesus for the gifts of healing that he can give?   We’re told in the Gospel that after this healing episode, Jesus retreats for prayer, and when Simon finds him he tells Jesus, “Everyone is searching for you.”

I have to tell you that this phrase frustrates me a little bit.   Is that true?   Does everyone still search for Jesus?    As someone who fairly regularly asks people to come to worship, I have to tell you, that this particular observation just doesn’t seem to fit.  It doesn’t feel to me like everyone is searching for Jesus out there.

I think this gets to our cultural hindrance question.   In this culture, church is not always seen as a place of healing by people who are outside the church.

Church is seen as a polite irrelevance, something that people do out of habit, or because it is expected of them.

Church is seen perhaps as a place of division, where people fight all the time, usually about money or trivial issues.

Church is seen as a place of hypocrites, where people go on Sunday to get their holiness fix and then leave to lie and cheat for the rest of the week.

That’s culture’s perception of what church is all about.  So they don’t come here.  They don’t see any reason to.   People still are searching for what Jesus can give, but they don’t know that this is the place to find it!  All the more reason for you to remember to be about healing in your home, your workplace, and in your contacts around town!   Those who search for healing don’t realize that the reason we hypocrites gather on Sunday morning is precisely because we feel our own hypocritical nature!

They don’t understand that the reason we gather is because we live with what Paul describes in Romans, how the good we want to do, we can’t quite do, and the evil that we don’t want to do, that’s what we end up doing.  We live that, and know that we need to be healed of what we’ve done and left undone and so we come to confess and to receive the healing bread and wine that gives us a fresh start, Christ’s presence within us.  We know what we find here.  We know that were Jesus goes, healing follows.

But for most people in this culture, that connection is lost.   They may know they need healing, but they don’t know quite where to go to find it.  That’s why Jesus’ response to Simon’s observation is such good news.  When Jesus finds out that everyone is searching for him, he does not say.  “Well then, let’s go back to the house and let them come find me!”

No, Jesus says, “Let’s go out….”

Jesus knows that what people are searching for, healing, is not something they can find on their own, and so he goes out to find them.

Jesus commissions you and me, as his disciples, to do the same.

Not everyone is searching for Jesus, right now, but they are looking for healing!

They are looking for friendship.

They are looking for a place where they can release their old baggage, open up their old wounds to be cleansed, find forgiveness and a fresh start.

You and I know where they can find that!  You and I know that, because we have found it here.  And so, it’s up to you and me to tell others, and to invite them into our homes, and into lives, and then into our gathering here, where Jesus is present.

It’s up to you and me to now do more than that even, because quite frankly, some of them will never come back here again.  They have been too wounded by the world, and by the worldliness that sometimes creeps in here because yes, we are a “real community.”  We get on each other’s nerves.   We have deep passions about what we feel God calls us to do.  We disagree over how that Spirit moves, prioritizes, and what it has to say to us.

We know that here Jesus could give them all that they seek, but since they won’t come here, we have to now become the ambassadors for Christ in this world.   I suppose that is why Jesus is so insistent that the Disciples go out on their own.  They will have to do this!

And so we read in the book of Acts what those disciples ultimately did, and they were very much like my cousins, they made a mark!   Where they went, healing, and communities of faith, and controversy, and forgiveness followed.   They lived in such a way that you could tell they had been there!

We are to live our faith lives in the same way.  We are to live our lives in such a way that others can see the mark that Jesus has made upon us, even and especially when we’re not within these four walls!

We have to let grace so radically transform us that we find ourselves never satisfied, always pushing limits, and consistently moving outside the prescribed boundaries.

And when that is what happens in our lives, what others will do is shake their heads and say, “Well, I can sure tell that Jesus has been here.”

“Engaging the Powers” Mark 1:21-28

One thousand, one hundred and forty people; that was the official population of my home town of Weeping Water Nebraska according to the sign on the highway when I was growing up.  When school was in session, if you added the 200 in High school and Jr. High, and the additional 200 or so in elementary, the population of my home town would be close to1500, or about the same size as Capernaum when Jesus moved there and began his ministry.

Sometimes it’s important to put the biblical narrative into some kind of comparable context.  Capernaum was the size of my home town, and communities of that size have a few characteristics that tend to transcend time and history.

In my home town, you would find consistency, and find such consistency to be highly valued. Things didn’t change a lot, and when they did, it was the source of much conversation.

“Did you see they put a new sign up at the Dairy Queen?”

“I heard they are going to fix up the football bleachers.”

Any change to the status quo was a point of much debate.  The majority of the families and long-time residents have spent their whole lives there, often doing the same things for generations.   There are these interconnected and inter-married webs of relationships, meaning that not much happens in a town of that size that doesn’t make the rounds pretty quickly.  So, it’s no big surprise that when Jesus enters the community of Capernaum, a community about the same size as my home town, there is a buzz about him.  Word gets out about Jesus.

When Jesus speaks at the Synagogue, it’s likely he is a welcome new voice in the community at first.  Who doesn’t like a little variety to the preaching and reading for a change.   He teaches with authority, not like one of our scribes.  Well of course he does!   It’s a new voice, a new take on those familiar bible passages.   Yes, I can understand that part of this Gospel lesson.

What more vexing for us usually is the next part, where Jesus “engages the powers,” so to speak.  Right there in the middle of the Synagogue there appears a man possessed by an unclean spirit, who right in the middle of the service seems to stand up and begin to address Jesus.

Now, this is where it gets a little tricky.  I’ve been influenced by way too many horror flicks and Hollywood representations of demon possessions over the years.  I get to this part of the story and suddenly I want to imbue this character standing up in the middle of worship with a raspy, Gollum like voice, hissing and spitting in a clearly spooky fashion, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth, have you come here to destroy us?”

But that’s not what it says.

It doesn’t say the unclean spirit hissed or had unearthly sounds, it says that the man with the unclean spirit screamed at Jesus.  It’s more of a startling event really, Jesus’ response to that is to literally “shut him up.”  The spirit is rebuked, it leaves him and seems to disappear into thin air, which amazes the crowd.

That got me thinking back to my home town again, and what it’s like to go to a school board meeting, or an election rally, or some event where the outsider comes in and draws up a new proposal for how things ought to be done from now on.

If you’re from a smaller town, you know where I’m going with this.

A city the size of Capernaum, the size of my home town, will often have folks who will get all riled up and speak passionately whenever the status quo is threatened.

You see, I’m rethinking this story in the light of my continuing education this last week, and hearing John Dominic Crossen, a New Testament Scholar who makes a pretty compelling case about what Jesus was doing, and what got him into trouble. Crossen says that when Jesus announced that the Kingdom of God had come near, he was not talking about some far off, future or heavenly oriented event.  John’s arrest was a kind of “tipping point.”   Now is the time to initiate change in this world, and the change that Jesus advocates is a kind of passive resistance to Rome’s occupation.

Jesus does not incite the crowds to follow him, or to take up arms, or to run the Romans out with revolt.  That would be a disaster.  He in fact, goes out of his way in Mark’s Gospel to make sure that never happens.  Every time a crowd gathers around him, he goes off to a lonely place to pray, and to escape them and let the crowd dissipate..

No, what Jesus proposes instead is engaging the powers that be on a level of re-imaging how the world ought to be ordered, and then urging his followers to live as if that is the case.  We will bring in the Kingdom by how we treat each other, and what we do for each other, and by proclaiming radical forgiveness.  Jesus rebukes demons, heals the sick, and most importantly feeds the hungry and says “this is the way the world ought to be, this is what the Kingdom is like, now come and join me in doing this.”

Jesus launches his ministry in Capernaum, among the fishing villages that have been watching as Rome has commercialized the area.   When Herod Antipas took over from his father, he made Tiberius by the Sea (just down the coast from Capernaum) the capitol, named it after a Roman Emperor, and began to make of it a resort destination of sorts, deepened his ties with Rome.

Herod Antipas begins to put pressure on to fish, to preserve the fish in salt, and ship the fish to Rome to as an export goods.  If not salted and shipped, then the fish were used to make that delightful or disgusting fish sauce that the wealthy relished.

Under Herod Antipas barley fields were turned into vineyards, taking arable land out of production for the 10 years that it takes before you get your first good crop of grapes.  Those grape vines didn’t feed the hungry, and they take the care of just a few workers, not like the fields that once had to be worked, planted, and harvested to provide the barley for bread. Oh, and those vineyard once in production now supplied wine for Rome instead of being kept for the local consumption.

No one is starving, mind you, but you can’t buy fish the way you used to anymore.  You can’t grow grain for your own bread the way you used to, and you can’t farm your own plot of land because it’s all been converted over to vineyards now owned by absentee landowners.

And here is where I see another similarity between Capernaum and my own little home town.  When all this commercialization happens, when big farms come in, and people are displaced, the hometown crowd will get restless and begin to feel helpless to manage their own fate. The result is that neighbor begins to turn against neighbor, as each is trying to eak out their own living.

Some will get squeezed out.

Some find themselves doing quite well as they make accommodations and figure out how to exploit the system to their advantage.

Tensions in the community will rise until you can’t even go to church anymore without an argument breaking out!

Is that what happens in the synagogue in Capernaum?

Jesus’ teaching begins touching a chord in the marginalized and disenfranchised of that community.  He is not accommodating like the Scribes and Pharisees, and there are those in the midst of the congregation who know what this kind of talk will lead to!

In this context, the context of the small town, my small town, I can imagine this scene differently.

I see it as the angry community leader, who doesn’t want his apple cart upset, and so he gets up and screams at the challenger to the status quo.

“What have you do with us (that is, with our community) Jesus of Nazareth?  (your community, why don’t you go back to where you came from)  Have you come here to destroy us?”

Maybe I’ve just always misunderstood the demon.  It’s not some hissing dis-embodied voice, it is the voice of this man, a particular man who right here in the middle of the worship service is ticked off by what the Rabbi has to say when said Rabbi begins to question economic structures in place, or community standards long held.

If you’re from a small town, think of all the things that people riled up.  Change, who owned how much land, who was making more money than everyone else, who held the community under their control and power, by might or bullying or brute economic strength.

Is this the demon that screams?

Lord knows it does take the power of God to silence such demons, the ones that set us against each other.

I hear the demon differently when I think of Jesus coming into a town of 1500 with his message.   How about you?

My point is this, following Jesus is never something that is divorced from everyday life, and most of the demons that we encounter to this day aren’t that different from the ones that Jesus faced.

He confronted the demon of the voice of Empire as he dared propose that all should be fed.

He challenged the demon of the voices of racism when he lifted up the Samaritans as heroes and made the priest and Levite the bad guys in his parable.

He battled the demon of the voices of sexism as he included women in his circle of friends and made them witnesses to the resurrection.

So then, why not battle the demon of economics as well?

The “we can’t afford that.”   The “I don’t believe in that.”  The “Commercialism is good.” The “that’s socialism.”

Are these not the demons that arise whenever a community wrestles with what God is calling us to do, and how to live together in justice and some measure of equity?   How quickly we scream at one another, polarize, and dismiss one another!

Jesus will have to shake his head and despair at Capernaum’s lack of faith.   I don’t think it was because his preaching was not effective.  I think it’s because it was, but not all demons were silenced.  They leave the particular person, and float in the air, maybe to re-appear at the opportune time.

I don’t have a grand conclusion to the Gospel this day, just this nagging, pondering question.  Is this how demons dwell among us still?  How can we cast them out, if not, as Jesus will later remind his disciples, and maybe us, by prayer?