And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.”
But the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.”
Matthew 9:33-34 (NIV)
In yesterday’s post, I talked about Jesus’ enemies who controlled the fundamentalist religious power in his day. As I read this morning’s chapter, I found myself continuing to observe and consider the contrast between Jesus’ words and actions and the words and actions of his detractors and enemies.
In one episode, a man who was demon-possessed and couldn’t speak was brought to Jesus. Remember that this was a rural, small-town, back-water region. Everyone knows everyone or at least knows who everyone is. It’s quite possible the many in the crowd knew this man, knew his crazy affliction, and had to navigate life with and around him. When Jesus healed the man and the man spoke for the first time, they were understandably amazed.
In today’s chapter alone a paralyzed man was forgiven and then walked. A dead girl was brought back to life. A woman with a chronic bleeding disorder was made whole. Two blind men see. A demon-possessed mute is freed from spiritual captivity and is finally able to speak. Just think about all of the goodness, wholeness, and life in each of these stories. Think about the parents, families, loved ones, friends, and communities who experienced the ripple-effect of these miracles as all of that shalom resonated through each of these individual’s circles of influence.
Now listen again to the Jesus’ religious enemies: “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.”
As fundamentalist systems perpetuate, only those who maintain “in-group” status are truly “good” in that system’s eyes. That goodness is seen and understood by an individual toeing the line of the system’s prescribed thoughts and behaviors. Jesus is repeatedly refusing to do so. He forgives sin (which, according to the system, only God can do). He associates with “out-group” sinners and tax collectors. He doesn’t appear to religiously fast like the system prescribes. He breaks the Sabbath rules. So this man can’t be good. In a fundamentalist system, the only good, pure, ideal people are those who follow the unquestionable rules and dogma to the letter and avoid mixing with undesireables.
“Those who are not for us are against us.”
Jesus doesn’t fit. He can’t be good. Thus, he must be evil.
In the quiet this morning, I recalled this episode:
John spoke up, “Teacher, we saw a man using your name to expel demons and we stopped him because he wasn’t in our group.”
Jesus wasn’t pleased. “Don’t stop him. No one can use my name to do something good and powerful, and in the next breath slam me. If he’s not an enemy, he’s an ally.“
Mark 9:38-40 (MSG)
Jesus’ reaction was the opposite of his religious enemies. Rather than being exclusionary and controlling, the way of Jesus was to be inclusive and empowering.
When I was a young man operating in fundamentalist Christian circles, being “Christ-like” meant adhering to the code of moral and doctrinal purity (as dictated by church, denomination, and/or parental authorities).
As an older man who has followed Jesus for forty years, I’ve increasingly learned that being “Christ-like” means adhering to the law of love (as dictated by Jesus).
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.