For those interested in what Jesus was teaching, we can turn to chapters 5, 6, & 7 in the Gospel of Matthew. Mark’s gospel seems more focused on the authority of Jesus’ teaching; first by the reaction of the people and then by a public exorcism of a demon who reveals the true identity of Jesus: not so much preacher, not so much teacher, but bringing authority as the “holy one from God.”
“You are the holy one from God!”
“Silence!” “Come out of him!” The unclean spirit shook the person and screamed, then it came out.
I’m guessing there wasn’t much snoozing going on in shul that day. Mark reveals that the people were shaken by what they had experienced.
Most of us have been shaken at one time or another. It often involves loss: loss of a loved one, loss of a job, loss of good health, loss of a marriage, loss of innocence. We are shaken into a new frame of reference, a new perspective.
As a nation, we have been shaken by insurrection and violence. We have been forced to see the depth of our division and now live in anticipation of domestic terrorism. A world pandemic has graphically revealed the gap between those that have, and those who have not. And a close look at scripture and the context in which it is written reveals that not much has changed.
The writer of Mark brings up the issue of authority. People recognized that Jesus is teaching with an authority that is different from the legal experts. His words are resonating in their hearts and minds, bringing a new sense of wonder to those who hear his voice and his message.
Jesus is different from the recognized authority of the day. Capernaum, and all of Galilee is occupied territory, just like all of Syria and Judea. Tribute is to Rome and all authority, including religious authority, is directed toward maintaining peace with Rome…Pax Romana, the Peace of Rome; do what we tell you and no one gets hurt.
Jesus has come into this environment bringing a message of cultural change. His mission is a message of inclusion and grace to a hardened world of exploitation and exclusion. He comes not to change one word of the Law of Moses, but to interpret Torah from the authority of a loving God, Pax Christi. Inclusion and Grace. The Peace of Christ.
That message is too much for the demon who lives at the expense of an Israelite, one of God’s chosen people. And when it’s all out in the open, Jesus commands the demon to leave, revealing the power of Pax Christi and it shook people in its wake.
We are living in the presence of white supremacy. Call it a demon if you will, but whatever you choose to call it, it is alive and living in people all over the world. The good news, is what Jesus began so long ago is continuing to this very moment. What we are experiencing is the painfully slow exorcism of racism. And it’s not going without a fight!
The process is not linear and often suffers huge setbacks, but visibility via the Internet has profoundly changed the world by shedding light on places that were formerly invisible because of darkness. The public death of George Floyd shook people around the world and confronted white people with the issue of privilege.
There is so much to learn…and even more to unlearn. But the peace of Christ, the Pax Christi, changes the dynamic. Rather than Jesus commanding the demon to vacate human dwelling, we, as racist beings, are called to purge racism from our own being, through prayer, through a relearning of history, and through a posture of grace and inclusivity.
The needle is moving in the direction of Jesus’ teaching at the synagogue in Capernaum.
Recently, in a “Brief but Spectacular” moment on PBS News Hour, we were introduced to Shaylon Walker, a beautiful, young African American with bright pink hair and a nose ring. She reminded me of my crazy youth. Ms Walker recently got a full-ride scholarship to Boston University. When she went back to visit her elementary teachers one of them asked, “What is it?” “What is what?” “Your sport?” I’m attending Boston University on an Academic in Leadership scholarship. I don’t play a sport.”
Consider, if you will, the power of poet Amanda Gorman. The power of her poetry brings hope and dignity to a world torn by strife and division. She is finding her voice, and hearts are rejoicing with the message of her writing.
Those who follow Jesus are called to roll up their sleeves and enter the work of discovering the blind spots of implicit bias. The good news is that there is a plethora of excellent material available to any who would choose to look.
Churches have learned to use technology to survive a pandemic. Why not take the next step and use it to learn the ways of grace and inclusivity that apply directly to the challenge of white supremacy?
This is not a problem to be solved. It’s a condition that must be purged from our being along with our propensity toward violence if we are to honor the ministry and message of Jesus.
We had a peaceful transition of power because there were 25,000 vetted National Guard soldiers deployed to Washington D. C. The FBI and Homeland Security have issued warnings that violent, domestic terror is still a very real possibility. We understand violence. It’s grace that upsets our understanding of justice.
Many, if not most of us, grew up in the environment of Pax Romana, do what I say, and nobody gets hurt. In my school corporal punishment was almost a daily event. I’m thinking that one of my classmates still has Weyerhauser stamped across his backside.
We’re really into punishment, and it shows. We have the highest incarceration rate per capita in the world. Prisons have become a primary source of economic stimulus for rural America.
In the early 1970s, President Richard Nixon stimulated a nerve of self-righteousness and declared a war on drugs. The result is mass incarceration of black and brown males.
Now I’m a United Methodist. Our church owns a valuable piece of property adjacent to the US Capital and the Supreme Court building. It is the only non-governmental building on Capital Hill and was built to provide a launching platform for the church to promote the passage of prohibition. That’s right. We hold a considerable stake in the creation of Al Capone, and many like him. We helped set the stage for the war on drugs.
We are losing that war. We have created a vicious, criminal element that has weaponry beyond imagination. Our police have little option than to meet force with equal force…but when? Pax Romana is the way of escalation and death. Review the history of Rome! It seems we a caught in a web of our own making.
As Christians, we have been entrusted with the movement from Pax Romana to Pax Christi, a movement that began more than two thousand years ago at a synagogue in Capernaum, a movement that will outlive us by many generations, but is worthy of our effort.
The peace of Christ begins in our families and extends into our communities. When we say, “Peace be with you” to a church member or a stranger, it must include the elements of grace and inclusion. For too long, the church has been rightfully identified with holier than thou, and ours is an uphill task.
Cultural change is possible, but it requires consistency and a desire to learn in ways that enhance empathy. The debates of ideology will continue, but we must come to recognize that the person is sacred territory, worthy of respect from all sides of any issue at hand. Violence… physical, emotional, and spiritual violence is not an option.
It’s not often that Jesus issues a command. By the authority instilled in Him through the Holy Spirit, he commanded the demon to leave. The demon had no choice. By that same authority, he commands his disciples to love one another, that we will be known, not so much for our ability to win an argument or dictate policy, but for our ability to love one another even as the Risen Christ loves us! Thanks be to God!
Peace be with you.