Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (Matthew 12:15-32) transports me to the set of an exciting thriller where Jesus mutes an excited crowd before exorcising Mephistopheles from a muted man. What possessed Jesus to cast out demons and confront the power brokers? What possessed Him to heal the sick and then silence the stunned crowd? According to the gospel writer, who got it on authority from the prophet Isaiah, Jesus was possessed by the Holy Spirit. The oppressive regime He was working to subvert was sufficiently unfamiliar with the Holy Spirit, so they mistook this Spirit for Beelzebub, aka Lord of the Flies. They were not the last to do so. Throughout history cultures have confused the work of the Holy Spirit with the work of Satan. It’s still going on. Sometimes the Spirit of welcoming strangers and tearing down dividing walls gets demonized. Sometimes the Spirit of loving enemies and engaging in transforming initiatives instead of violence gets demonized. Sometimes the Spirit that frees us from materialism and leads us to share all things in common gets demonized.
Hollywood has done us a disservice by portraying demonic possessions through beastly voices, bulging bloodshot eyes, projectile up-chucking, levitation and telekinetic chaos. Jesus understood the demonic to be whatever was working against his Holy agenda of saving grace, inclusive love of enemies, fearless welcome of foreigners, and freedom from material addictions. These possessions are much more pedestrian and mainstream, much less thrilling on the big screen, but much more insidious. The Stones have it right; the devil elicits more sympathy than horror, coming more often than not in the guise of wealth and taste, puzzling humankind with the nature of his game.
It is not a puzzle, though, if we know the story of Jesus. Whenever a people or a culture gets possessed by the fear and loathing of strangers, Beelzebub is bound to be involved. Whenever a people or culture gets possessed by violence and vengeance on enemies, Beelzebub is bound to be involved. Whenever a people or culture gets possessed by their possessions while the poor suffer, Beelzebub is bound to be involved. It’s enough to make your head spin and listen to Tubular Bells. We need not fear this horror, though, because Jesus comes as a cat burglar to Beezebub’s house, duct tapes him up and carries away all his possessions. All threats are now empty. So we can sing ourselves to a peaceful sleep, Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on us. . .
*Daily Passages are the weekday reflections of Stan Dotson, connecting culture to biblical texts. Each week takes its guiding theme for the daily posts from the gospel reading on Monday, the “Primary Passage.” This week’s theme is “Possession.” As always, your feedback and comments are welcome. Feel free to share where the passages take you in your journey of faith.