Then he went home; and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.”
This passage is easy to disregard because it feels at first glance so alien and foreign to our world and experience. Who is Beelzebul, after all, and why are people claiming Jesus is possessed by him? I mean, goodness gracious, but all he’s done so far is heal people, help people, rid them of unclean spirits. Why are they so angry?
And here’s where all that’s foreign or strange or odd passes away and all we’re left with is a reality no different from our own. Jesus, you see, is introducing an understanding of religion – actually, of God! – that is frightening. Why? Because it’s a picture of a God who is wildly gracious and unrelentingly merciful and who refuses to respect the lines we draw about who’s in and who’s out.
The Scribes, you see – and let’s face it, most of us religious folk of all time and ages – are pretty sure they (we) know who is right and who is wrong. We’re pretty sure we know what you have to do to be “right” with God. And when Jesus comes introducing a different picture of God – one that welcomes those who are outcast and despised – we get nervous. I mean, why try so hard to do things right if just anyone can get in?
We’re good with lines, with definitions, and with categories – these kinds of things help us sort people out, make sense of this confusing world, and feel a little more safe and secure. Yet the trouble with God – at least the God Jesus proclaims – is that God doesn’t respect any of these neat alignments but instead comes and welcomes all, receives all, and loves all. In fact, according to Jesus, anytime you draw a line between who’s in and who’s out, you’re likely to find this God on the other side.
And so the religious leaders of the day – not unlike so many religious leaders today – cannot imagine and actually feel quite threatened by the God Jesus declares and so declare him satanic – for Beelzebul is the chief of demons.
To be honest, I’m not all that worried about this scene where folks accuse Jesus of being demonic. He can take care of himself (no matter what his family may think!). To be more honest, I’m worried when we do the same today, labeling foreign, unnatural or demonic anything we don’t understand, anything that threatens our preconceptions or calls into question our categories. How do we know when we’re doing it? Well, pay attention to what’s happening – if someone is being helped, healed, welcomed, or accepted, it’s probably of God. At least the God Jesus proclaimed.
Prayer: Dear God, calm our fears and give us courage to see in others – all others – children of your own creation and love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.