Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Nothing Like This Has Ever Been Seen In Israel

Matthew 9:32-38
While they were going out, a man who was demon-possessed and could not talk was brought to Jesus. 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."

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field."

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Saint John Chrysostom wrote: “People who stop doing good because of accusations, show that their good deeds have been done to impress others. But if for God's sake you do good to your fellow-servants, you will not stop doing good whatever they do." Doing things to impress others used to be called ‘human respect’. It was badly named, because there is no real respect involved at all, neither for oneself nor for others. In Catholic spirituality many things were named in very misleading ways because they were only half translated from Latin. The word ‘respect’ comes from ‘respicere’, which means ‘too look back’. In this context it means checking to see how your performance is going down with the audience. A better translation today might be ‘seeking to impress’ or ‘seeking celebrity’. It’s clear on every page of the gospels that Jesus was entirely free of it.

When they could find nothing to criticize in what Jesus did, they tried to dig down and discredit his motivation. This has a very modern ring to it. “He drives away demons with the help of the prince of demons.” It is what you might call ‘the explanation from below’. A great deal of modern psychology also offers explanations ‘from below’. We live in a culture of suspicion, in which higher motives are usually interpreted as hypocrisy. It’s a seductive way of looking: it explains away goodness, and so it gives me permission to wallow where I am; it even makes wallowing look commendably honest.

There is also the ‘explanation from above’. That too has its dangers of course. There is the case of the history student who gave ‘God’ as the explanation of everything that happened in the past.

It all makes us think: what are we doing when we look for explanations? What part of our mind or being are we trying to satisfy? And what do we do with explanations when we get them? In truth: nothing! We pass on to something else.

Jesus ignored the jibe about Beelzebub. That’s undoubtedly the best thing to do with explanations, especially explanations ‘from below’. Trying to counter them only robs us of our power. I love the way the narrative just continues, “Then Jesus went about all the towns and villages….” Sometimes that’s the best response: Just keep on keeping on.

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