Lent 5 ¢ Introduction
In recent years, thanks in part to scholarly research, and also to a new and more open dialogue with our Jewish brothers and sisters in faith, we know much more, and understand much more, about the Pharisees. A far more interesting and complex picture of first century Judaism has emerged as a result. We have learned that the earliest Gospel writers, deeply influenced by the increasing competition and resulting hostility between Judaism and their own infant new religion, tended to paint all Pharisees (and in John’s gospel, even all Jews) with the same condemning brush. However there is no denying that, among Jesus’ own people, and particularly within the religious power structure of that time, there was a growing, and increasingly threatening hostility to our Lord and his message. This week’s meditation illuminates some of the grounds for that hostility.
(Matthew 12:22-23, Mark 3:23-27, Luke 11:14-20)
What else were we to say?
How else respond to report after report
of lame folk walking,
the blind restored to sight,
and demons cast out by the very legion?
As for myself,
I thought I made a rather brilliant rejoinder.
Clearly he casts out his demons
through the power of the Prince of demons.
Is it really any wonder
he displays such masterful control
and full authority with evil spirits?
He is evidently in alliance with their Lord and Master,
Old Beelzebul himself.
It must be said
that even his old friends and neighbors
who had come to take him home,
believing him to be insane,
were shocked at this.
Yet, I repeat, what else were we to say?
The man is clearly trouble in the making,
attracting almost daily potentially unruly gatherings
of the lower classes,
and thus also the most unwelcome attention
of our Roman overlords.
His popularity and influence with the mob
grows stronger day by day.
Yet his teachings are subversive
of all that we have tried to inculcate
these many years.
He claims that he upholds the laws
passed down to us by Moses
from the flaming heights of Sinai.
But his attitude toward the Sabbath,
and to our carefully thought out delimitations
of the clean and the unclean,
the flagrant way he seeks out and spends
his time with the lowest of the low,
those whose chosen way of life
makes them untouchable and worse,
to the holy One we seek to serve,
all this contradicts his claims,
denies his pious pose,
makes mockery of these constant references
to the Almighty as his Father.
Therefore the only way
to explain these mystic powers
people claim that he possesses
is not to deny them,
but to credit them where they belong,
to Beelzebul, the Prince of Outer Darkness.
Even he seemed stunned, at first,
by our masterful accusation,
reacted, indeed, as if someone had drawn
a knotted whip across his face.
Maybe it made him realize
that this is no light or laughing matter.
Maybe he glimpsed, just then, for the first time,
precisely what he is now up against,
what fate might hold in store for him
if he persists in his present, misguided path.
His anger certainly was not concealed.
How shall the powers of evil produce good?
he self-righteously demanded of us,
simply evading the obvious question that,
while healing may indeed be, at times, a blessing,
to work that blessing on the holy Sabbath
must surely render null and void
whatever virtue it contains.
To shatter one of the holiest of our laws
in the name of a generalized attitude of goodwill
sets all kinds of dangerous precedents.
If one can set aside the commandments given to Moses
every time one wishes to be nice to someone else,
then just where does all this end?
Anyway, if he truly respects Torah so much,
why could he not have waited till next day
to demonstrate his powers and heal these people,
as one of our own holy men surely would have done.
As for citing King David’s feeding
of the Temple’s sacred bread to his famished troops,
just who does this poor fool think he is?
Our great King David’s desperate actions
in the midst of national crisis
are hardly to be regarded on the same level
as his followers stealing corn last Sabbath morn.
Then, to cap the whole thing off,
he publicly accused us of blasphemy,
of sinning against the Spirit of the Lord, no less.
He had the sheer gall to further state that,
beyond all the generosity of God’s grace,
there are some things – like the conscious
and deliberate choice to name evil as good,
and good as evil –
which may well go beyond the power
of even the Holy One Himself to forgive.
That did it,
as far as I was concerned.
Right at that point he simply went too far,
made crystal clear at last the threat he poses,
not just for us, but for our ancient faith,
and also, to be sure, our sacred state.
He must be stopped, and speedily.
Ways must be found,
whatever ways prove necessary –
this is no time to be squeamish –
to discredit him with the common folk
and silence him, get rid of him for good.
They’ve called another meeting
to discuss all this tonight.
Needless to say, I plan to be there.
Barrie Shepherd retired from historic First Church in New York City in 2000. He currently lives in Wallingford, Pa., and is a parish associate at Wallingford Church.