1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Have you ever felt like an outsider? We may feel like outsiders when we start a new job, when everyone has done something – like buy an IPhone – except us, or when we are struggling with problems that we don’t feel comfortable sharing with others. We feel like outsiders when we don’t have perfect relationships or ideal bodies or well-groomed yards. There are times when we each feel left out or like we don’t fit in.
My most profound experience of being an outsider was when I studied abroad in France. As a foreigner, I was always in a state of not knowing. I did not know the proper way to greet people, or say good bye and had trouble just counting my change from financial transactions. It was exhausting; always being wrong, always being in the end “not french”. The worst part of this experience actually came at my church. I attended a Reformed Church, where I had trouble understanding what they said. I vividly recall the day I went to church for Communion Sunday. I was terrified that the Pastor would announce Communion is for members only but my French would so poor I wouldn’t understand and I would go up to try to receive Communion and would be turned away. It is this sense of not belonging that is at the heart of being an outsider.
Drawing lines between insiders and outsiders is nothing new. In Jesus’ day, there were strict lines drawn and folks who were sick, broken, lame or otherwise “unclean” were simply not allowed to enter the temple. This is the case for the man in today’s story in Mark. Let’s give him a name and call him Danny. In today’s story, Danny is not welcomed at the temple because he has an unclean spirit.
Now, I must confess, I don’t know much about unclean spirits, or demons as they are often called. I don’t know where they come from, whether they come from inside or outside us, I don’t know whether they are actual demons or human darkness. Yet, I know things like addictions and compulsion, anxiety and despair take ahold of us and make us do things that we don’t want to do. I know that evil and darkness and destructive forces are real.
And they are something that Danny wrestled with.
Yet, somehow, at the beginning of today’s story, Danny manages to step into the light. And when he does that, his demon becomes afraid. Isn’t that profound? That the moment Danny steps into a place of love and community, his demon has the good sense to recognize Jesus’ authority. The fear Danny’s demon has reminds me of how much evil tries to keep us isolated in our pain. Of how much evil tries to get us to stay away from people who may remind us how loved we are. Our demons want nothing to do with the love of God in Christ Jesus and so they try to isolate us and tell us that we are not worthy to be called children of God.
And that my friends is why Jesus basically tells this spirit to shut up and take a hike. The translation says “be silent” but the expression is actually much stronger. The expression is the same one used later to describe Jesus “shutting up” the storm on the sea.
I was initially disturbed by Jesus using such a strong term. After all, one of the first things I learned as a kid was that we shouldn’t tell people … or things … to shut up because it isn’t nice. And Jesus is all about being nice, right?
Faith is all about being nice right … and accommodating … and bend over backwards for people … right? Yet the more I thought about the verse, the more I began to be troubled by it.
I remember this story I once heard in college while taking a class on domestic violence. In this class was the story of a man who was always berating and belittling his wife, calling her stupid and crazy and other awful things. One day they were walking through New York City and they came upon a beautiful, old building. And the woman was so taken by it that she remarked, “Wow, look at how stunning that building is!” The man responded saying, “You are so stupid, that is the ugliest building I have ever seen.” A stranger was listening to this conversation, as they stood at the corner of a street waiting to cross the road, and interjected firmly, “You know what, that building is beautiful and you are being mean.”
That woman thought about the words from that stranger for years to come … in fact she had written them down in an article so that I could read them. The stranger’s words proclaimed for her, her worthy and beauty even when she could not see it for herself. Those words helped her to begin to think I am not stupid, I am not crazy, I am a child of God. It was of course an incredibly long journey for her, taking many years … and yet those words of truth and firmness launched her on that journey.
Jesus, I think, is a bit like that stranger. He comes to tell the truth of our eternal worth. And this is something that Jesus is not quiet or wishwashy on …rather Jesus defiantly reminds us of our own worth and value even when we can’t see it ourselves. Jesus persistently and unfailingly calls us to this sense of dignity until we at last, like the woman in the story, can see that dignity in ourselves and in others. In the Scripture today, I began to see Jesus telling the demon to shut up and take hike as a claiming of the dignity. Jesus cannot be cowed and in spite of all the lies that demon tells — lies that Danny isn’t good enough and that no one cares about him and that he is worthless – Jesus tells these demon to be silent so that Danny might know the truth of who and whose he is.
I think that this is the truth that Paul is getting at as well in his letters to the Corinthians. From his words, it is clear that there is a divide between insiders and outsiders, a divide between those who eat meat sacrificed to idols, and those who don’t. Paul informally refers to these groups as the weak and the strong and some scholars think that the divide may had been an economical one, since the rich would have had more of an opportunity to buy and eat meat for their social gatherings. Thus, in Corinth, there is a growing sense of hierarchy, with some Corinthians clearly thinking they were better than others. And into this place of conflict, Paul says, “Knowledge puffs up, loves builds up.” What he is saying is that faith is not about having rigid rules or hierarchy, faith at its core is about doing no harm, about considering how your actions affect your brothers and sisters.
Paul’s words for the Corinthians has that same kind of firmness that Jesus’ had. Yes, Paul is saying, love one another, but in your loving, carve out space for each person to be and do not harm one another. Paul is saying that it is not about being right about eating meat … it is about being in right relationship with your Christian brothers and sisters.
At its heart, this is the truth that Jesus is conveying from the center of the temple. Jesus is liberating people from the rigid boundaries of who is in and out, from hierarchy and purity codes. It’s like there is a velvet rope at the door of the temple and it falls to the ground and Jesus invites on in the lame and the lost, the lonely, the last and the least. Jesus says no matter who are, or where you are on life’s journey, I see your dignity and worth.
And I will keep reminding you. Until you can see it yourself. Until you are healed, like Danny was.
In the book of Mark, this is Jesus’ very first act of ministry. From the very beginning, Jesus shatters human categories, calling those who have traditionally been considered unclean, clean; those who feel unworthy, beloved; those who are outsiders, embraced; those who are struggling with darkness, welcomed.
Jesus invites all of us to enter into the heart of God. However, not only does Jesus invite all of us, no matter who we are, but Jesus also invites all parts of us. Jesus invites us to bring the parts of us that feels unworthy or like outsiders or the parts of us that struggles with darkness. Like Danny, Jesus invites us to show up, demons and all. Jesus invites us to bring all of who we are, that we might receive healing, that we might be made new. Jesus welcomes the parts of us that have been harmed, the parts of us that want to harm.
Our faith journey, Jesus teaches us, is not about being right, or having all our stuff together, but about gather together in a holy place, proclaiming the dignity and sacred worth of ourselves and each other. It is about gathering around a table remembering how Jesus saw the belovedness of each one of us, and offered us the bread of life and the cup of liberation, reminding us that there is no outsiders or insiders, only children of God. We gather around this table bringing the broken pieces of our lives, the most broken pieces of our world, bringing the most broken piece of ourselves to the table, so that we might tell what which keeps us shackled to take a hike in the name of Jesus … so that we like Jesus might boldly and persistently claim, “I am a child of sacred worth, even if I trouble believing it right now”. Keeping saying it, keep practicing it, Jesus invites us, until you do believe.
Today’s story is the very first story of Jesus’ ministry in Mark. Right from the start, Jesus invites us to bring all of who we are that we might receive this, the living bread come down from heaven. That we might receiving life and healing and salvation with all the other broken saints and gleaming sinners, who God gathers up tenderly, close to God’s own heart. Amen.