Who is doing the yelling?

Stand at the crossroads, where the good way lies….
January 25, 2024
No More Demons!
February 3, 2024
Stand at the crossroads, where the good way lies….
January 25, 2024
No More Demons!
February 3, 2024

There is an extraordinary injunction in the letter of Paul to the Corinthians, that captured my imagination as I prayed and prepared for this reflection.  Paul writes to the Corinthian community:

But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. (1 Cor. 8:9)

Paul was writing about the eating habits and customs of the people of Corinth, and their apparent unwillingness to change their habits, as they seemed to prefer doing what they had always done and known, rather than choosing to love and in loving being prepared to change to be more inclusive and welcoming of others. This reminder from Paul was sufficiently different, challenging and potentially life-changing and they seemed to be resistant to the message. 

While the discussion was about what they ate and the different food habits of believers in different communities, Paul reminds us, if in your behaviour and determination to continue doing what you’ve always done and refuse to change, and you cause someone with a weaker conscience to copy you and also to sin, Paul says: ‘you sin against Christ.’ (1 Cor. 8:12)

So by your knowledge, those weak believers for whom Christ died, are destroyed. 1 Cor. 8:11

Let us be under no illusion about the quality and implications of our choices about not changing, which are against Christ.

There’s a lot of debate at the moment about changing our minds, about who we include and exclude and why.  The comment and our lament frequently says:  If we’ve always done it like this, why must we be the ones who must change; why do we have to change anyway? 

Paul and Jesus make it very clear.  We change because we love, rather than ‘know’.  As Paul says: ‘Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.’ (1 Cor. 8:1).  Considering ourselves superior based on knowledge, our established privilege, custom and practice simply doesn’t count and is irrelevant in God’s eyes.  Requiring others to change to belong to our community is not loving. It is not inclusive.  It is blind and excluding.

This is a radical interpretation of love: its life-changing.    And as we hear in Mark’s gospel, the people in the synagogue said of Jesus:

What is this? A new teaching – with authority!  He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.  (Mark 1:27).

Jesus was breaking many of the customs and practices, the rules that governed the people, oppressing and burdening them and leaving them distant from God. 

Jesus was preaching on the Sabbath in a synagogue, he was working by expelling unclean spirits, healing and restoring people to communities from which they had been ejected.  His preaching about healing and wholeness, forgiveness, faithfulness and love must have been profoundly shocking, particularly to the authorities who had based their power on controlling the people, implementing numerous and complicated rules and ensuring those with the most knowledge about the system and their rules would be the ones with the most power.  This was a direct challenge by Jesus.

So, my wondering is about how we feel about Jesus’ resistance to the constructs of human power and control, today.  We still honour and elevate those with the most intellectual knowledge, those who know the rules and can make them work beneficially for themselves, financially, socially, politically and for those around them.  We try and get close to them so we too can benefit from their ownership of the rules. 

We still resist change, particularly when its about letting people into our communities who are different, or accepting them with equity and dignity.  We still reject change when it means we have to be the ones who change, our laws, our practices and customs.  We still do this based on our knowledge.  It is not done with love.  We still refuse to see or hear the ones whom we reject as God’s children.  We don’t need to because they’re not ‘us’.

Then we are told Jesus is challenged by the unclean spirit, who says: 

What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’ (Mark 1:24)

I wondered if, perhaps, we might be the unclean spirits?  Let us think about this and how the idea fits in this insight and whether it is helpful in making us see how we become what Jesus rejects.    Are we the ones shouting Jesus down, drowning him out so others can’t see his work or hear his words?  While Jesus hasn’t come to destroy us; and let’s be clear, we’re very capable of doing that ourselves, our understanding of the implications of Jesus’ message has us scrabbling to find out what is our position in this new world, and how we might make this all work for us without having to do the hard yards and change our lives.

Jesus brought a message of love for all humanity.  He didn’t bring violence, hatred, fear or rejection.  He didn’t demand entry requirements or knowledge of rules.  He simply invited people to know about God’s love for each one of us, and if we accept God’s love, then we are also joyful in sharing that good news with everyone.  Let us live forward with this in our hearts, as we listen to Jesus, calling out the unclean spirits and once more healing, forgiving, restoring and loving.

The Lord be with you.

Lucy Morris
Lucy Morris
Anglican Priest, International Speaker, Published Author, Social Justice Advocate and Activist.

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