Jesus came to destroy. But, he came to destroy in order to rebuild, to reconstruct, to recreate.
After leaving the White House, Jimmy Carter was on a late-night talk show. He told about going on a speaking tour of Japan. He said he told a little joke about hog farming to begin his speech and, after the interpreter had finished translating, the room erupted in laughter. Carter was both surprised and pleased. After the speech, an old friend of Carter’s who spoke Japanese told him why everyone had laughed so loudly. The interpreter had said, “President Carter has told a very funny story. Everyone should laugh now.”
Mark’s Gospel says that Jesus “taught as one having authority, not as the scribes.” In this case, the scribes were like President Carter’s interpreter, telling people how they should feel and respond rather than making clear what God had said. Many of us have become accustomed to getting our truth from “interpreters” who tell us how we should feel, how we should respond.
From parents to pastors to politicians, from teachers to TV talking heads, our ears are bombarded by the voices of interpreters telling us what everything from eating our veggies to the latest rise in the stock market really means. And most of us, most of the time, have learned to listen to our interpreters with a grain of salt, sort of half-listening to what is said as they drone on in a monotonous, “should-ing” mode. This is what makes an authentic and true voice so startling. A voice like the voice of Jesus, who “taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Mark 1: 22). Jesus was not one of the “interpreters.”
When Jesus preached at Capernaum, the text says the people were astounded and amazed. They didn’t know how to respond—nobody was telling them how to feel or what to do, whether to laugh or not. Genuine freedom is a very frightening thing. And emotional freedom is the most frightening freedom of all, as the casting out of the unclean spirit shows.
Without debating spirits, demons, mental illness, emotional compulsion and all that, can we agree that anything within us that resists genuine freedom and responsibility in our lives is an unclean spirit? Upon hearing the voice of authority, a voice declaring our freedom, our unclean spirits immediately resist because our unclean spirits recognize in that voice of freedom the call to change. Indeed, the unclean spirit is correct when it accuses Jesus of having come on a mission of destruction: “Have you come to destroy us?”
Jesus did indeed come into the world and into our lives with an agenda of anarchy. Jesus came to tear down any and all walls of separation that keep God’s people apart from one another. Jesus came to erase the structures of slavery to sin that keep us in bondage to our own badness. Jesus came to wipe out the diseases of the soul that keep us from knowing God’s love and hold us back from loving one another.
Yes, Jesus came to destroy. But, he came to destroy in order to rebuild, to reconstruct, to recreate. Jesus came to remake us in the image of God. To make of us new creatures in Christ.
It is no wonder that unclean spirits, past and present, are afraid. They know that the coming of Christ spells the end of their reign of fear in the human heart.
In The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, the children are somewhat afraid when they learn that the savior of the Narnians is Aslan, a lion. “Is he safe?’ they ask, “Safe!” the beaver responds, “Of course not. He’s a lion. But he’s good.”
Just so, Jesus is not safe; he did indeed come to destroy. But he is good, because he also came to remake us into the wonderful and loving human beings God created us to be in the first place.
And it is no wonder that the people were both astounded and amazed. In the clear, un-interpreted, un-translated, rural accented voice of Jesus they heard a call to freedom, a call to shuck off all the “shoulds” they had heard all their lives. In that voice, they heard a call to respond to the love of the one who loved them. In that voice, they heard a call to leave fear behind and to step out in freedom to do God’s work in God’s way in the world. In that voice, they heard a call to love the unlovely, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to house the homeless, to cry out against unclean spirits of war and oppression, injustice and indignity wherever they have a stranglehold on human lives. In that voice they heard the voice of God say, “I love you, come follow me.”
Amen and amen.