August 25, 2014
Dear brothers and sisters,
Let’s see what Jesus is up to today in Mark 3:7-12.
Jesus withdrew toward the sea with his disciples. A large number of people [followed] from Galilee and from Judea. Hearing what he was doing, a large number of people came to him also from Jerusalem, from Idumea, from beyond the Jordan, and from the neighborhood of Tyre and Sidon. He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him. He had cured many and, as a result, those who had diseases were pressing upon him to touch him. And whenever unclean spirits saw him they would fall down before him and shout, “You are the Son of God.” He warned them sternly not to make him known.
Have you ever noticed how Jesus was always thinking forward, thinking ahead of his disciples, planning the next steps? That’s he told his disciples to have a boat ready. He could easily see the increasing numbers of people who were coming from all over, both within Israel and from regions far away. It was quickly becoming an ugly scene with people clamoring to get close to him, to touch him in hopes of being healed. People jostling for a place near him, elbowing others out of the way without heed for anyone else’s needs or well being. He was like a rock star. Wave after wave of people surged toward him to the point that he and others were in danger of being crushed literally.
Isn’t it interesting that Jesus didn’t even have to call out the demons in people possessed. They merely saw Jesus, came within his aura of spiritual power, and fell down prostrate at his feet. They called him the Son of God when no one else yet had come to that conclusion. Did they have some special power of knowing? Had people literally been possessed by evil spirits? Barclay thinks of it in this way, “In all these cases [in the Hebrew scriptures] the term son describes someone who is specially near and close to God….When we meet this title in the simplicity of the gospel story we are not to think in terms of philosophy or theology or of the doctrine of the Trinity; we are to think of it as expressing the fact that Jesus’ relationship to God was so close that no other word could describe it. Now these demon-possessed men felt that in them there was an independent evil spirit; they somehow felt that in Jesus was one near and kin to God; they felt that in the presence of this nearness to God the demons could not live and therefore they were afraid.”
That makes sense to me. We are all haunted by demons, the dark parts of ourselves that seem to drive our behaviors compelling us to do things that we know are self-destructive or harmful to our relationships with others. At least I know I am. I want to deny these aspects of myself, hide them away from both my awareness and from public observance. In so doing I give them even more power to the point that I can become possessed. These demons, though, lose their power when I acknowledge them and their influence over my behavior. When I reveal them to others, particularly those I love and to Jesus, it is as if they fall prostrate helpless in the face of acceptance and love. It’s such a paradox that in revealing my demons, my weaknesses, my vulnerabilities, they lose their power. Yet, I’m terrified that no one, not even Jesus, can love me when they see me naked, stripped of the masks I’ve created to hide my demons. That’s a big stumbling block for me, not being able to unconditionally accept God’s unconditional love. Isn’t that hubris to think that God can’t love me as I am? I’ve imposed the constraints, not Him. Until I can believe it through and through, I’ll never be able to love all of myself or accept that others love me as I am either. That seems to be our human dilemma, not my problem alone. I was comforted by Richard Rohr’s meditation this morning about the circuitous path of faith, “It’s God entering our lives and then our fighting, avoiding, running from that very possibility. It is always too good to be true — for someone as little and seemingly unimportant as me!”
I’ve never been able to understand just why Jesus repeatedly tells these demons not to tell others who he is, the Son of God. Moloney in The Gospel of Mark gives it only two lines. “[T]he reason for Jesus’ command to silence is given. It is not the demons who are to make known the true identity of Jesus.” It makes me think that it’s not my demons, even if they are overpowered by Jesus, that can testify to who he is. It is the empowerment of the source of love within me that testifies to Jesus’ love. It’s not by disowning or disavowing my demons; it’s by acting in love toward others. But first, it’s acting in love toward myself, accepting and exposing my demons, becoming vulnerable and allowing myself to be loved as I am — the ugly and beautiful alike. Rohr also wrote, “Our job is to see where the three steps forward are heading…which then gives us the ability to both recognize and forgive the two steps backward….Fortunately, God works with all of it, both the forward and the backward, and that’s what bases the whole journey precisely in divine mercy or what the Bible call ‘steadfast love.'”
Three steps forward and two steps backward. Sometimes it seems like just the reverse! I thank God that He is patient with me. He is steadfast whereas I am decidedly not.