What are unclean spirits? I think “unclean spirits” are unhealthy echoes of others who have secretly taken possession of us and left us with distorted feelings, distorted thinking and distorted behavior.
-Rev. Tom Truby
Pastors have a frequent question when they begin to discover mimetic theory. “That’s great. But how does it preach?”
Reverend Tom Truby shows that mimetic theory is a powerful tool that enables pastors to preach the Gospel in a way that is meaningful and refreshing to the modern world. Each week, Teaching Nonviolent Atonement will highlight his sermons as examples of preaching the Gospel through mimetic theory.
Year B, Pentecost 6, Proper 9 (July 3-9)
July 8th, 2018
By Thomas L. Truby
Unclean Spirits in His Hometown
“On the Sabbath, he began to teach in the synagogue.” This was no ordinary synagogue. It was his home town synagogue. Teaching in your hometown is tricky business. Having been part of forming Jesus, they expect to hear their ideas, assumptions and ways of looking at things coming back at them. They think his speech will be a confirmation of their world view. They didn’t really expect to learn anything they didn’t already know.
We see the first sign of trouble when the text says, “Many who heard him were astounded.” He appears to be operating outside the parameters of the village’s world-view. He is saying things that do not compute. I picture a cartoon bubble forming over their heads with a question mark, an exclamation point and a dark cloud brewing in it.
They ask “Where did this man get all this?” and we hear behind it, “not from us!” They have begun to distance themselves by referring to him as “this man.” We are seeing how scapegoating develops in a community. A huge and dangerous shift is happening. He is being put “over there” where the village can be against him.
They ask “What is this wisdom he has been given.” Should the word “wisdom” be emphasized and said with sarcasm or do they mean it? Is the intended audience fellow Nazarenes who catch the wink and pass it on or is this a legitimate conversation on wisdom? Maybe it’s both; they are impressed and beginning to hate him at the same time. After all, he is a sibling who dared depart and now he comes back to teach them like he knows more or is better or something.
The gathering crowd seems to be struggling with their relationship to Jesus. It is a very personal struggle, fueled by envy and rivalry with Jesus; this young man they knew as a child. They can neither claim him nor let him go. He has gotten under their skin. With amazement they say “What deeds of power are being done by his hands!” But then they say, “Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t he Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?”
They are talking it over, thinking it through, and gradually reaching a consensus that even though Jesus was once one of them and has become quite well known, he no longer fits. There is something wrong with him and he must go. They all agree on that. The text says “They took offense at him.” In the original Greek the literal meaning of “to take offence” is “to be made to feel like throwing up.” They were so repulsed by him they want to vomit him out. The people of Nazareth couldn’t get rid of him fast enough.
Again the text says, “And he could do no deed of power there, except he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.” I have always assumed he couldn’t heal because the people lacked faith as though healing depended on their faith. Now I think he couldn’t heal because nobody came. Oh, a few desperate people defied the village ban and he healed them, but mostly they didn’t come. They just stayed away. Word had gotten out that Jesus was off-limits for Nazarenes.
Having been thrown out by his own people, “then Jesus traveled through the surrounding villages teaching.” He didn’t preach. He taught. He had done this in Nazareth and now he does it in the surrounding villages. I’m curious, what’s the difference between teaching and preaching?I think teaching assumes a solid body of knowledge that is “out there,” a reservoir of information and insight that can be taught and learned. Preaching has more to do with convincing folk of something so that they change their minds and embrace it. I think Jesus knew he had something new to teach about life, about us (anthropology) and the character of God (theology). He thought the good people of his hometown would immediately receive it as good news. I think he was trying to teach them that God is love; it is a love for everyone. That’s where the problem came in for them. They were perfectly happy to think God loved them but hated the idea that God loved everyone including their rivals and enemies. And finally he taught that we can build a culture on this love with no “us” and “them” division. I think he was excited to share this with his own people and surprised that instead of embracing it, they throw him out. At one point the text says “He was amazed at their unbelief.” He quickly discovers they have a deep commitment, almost a desperate need, to maintain the dynamics of inclusion and exclusion.
After leaving his home town, “He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two.” By sending them out by twos, they would never be a minority of one—a very dangerous position. He also changes his teaching strategy and does not begin in the Synagogue. And very significantly, “He gives them authority over unclean spirits.”
What are unclean spirits? I think “unclean spirits” are unhealthy echoes of others who have secretly taken possession of us and left us with distorted feelings, distorted thinking and distorted behavior. Humans are mimetic, we learn by watching others. But what happens when the ones we are watching and learning from are filled with erroneous thoughts, feelings covering vast amounts of rage and narcissism for example, and behaviors designed to escape the truth they do not want to face? When that happens we too are filled with unclean spirits. These spirits pass from generation to generation. They twist our thinking, undermine our ability to be in touch with ourselves, block and distort our closeness to God, and many times make us ill.
To have authority over unclean spirits is to be able to send them packing by pointing toward a model that is truth, love, compassion and forgiveness. When we change who we follow from the hidden model buried deep in our minds and hearts to the revealed model who stands before us offering life in all its fullness, unclean spirits have no choice but to leave. That’s how it works. That’s how we are converted and it is a lifelong process.
“He instructed them to take nothing for the journey except a walking stick—no bread, no bags, and no money in their belts. He told them to wear sandals but not to put on two shirts.” A walking stick would help them keep their balance as they followed the rocky trails and sandals would protect their feet. But nothing beyond that, nothing extra! He sends them out in a way that elicits no envy. They are totally dependent and in the lowest position. While on their mission two by two they will live trusting in people and in God so that they can cast out unclean spirits—those spirits generated when trust is broken or people fall into rivalry with one another. Better to take the lower place than fall into rivalry; so one shirt only, no money in your belt, and no bags that might stimulate jealousy.
“Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place.” Be fully present to that place and those people. No seeking for higher class accommodations. Doing that would plant unclean spirits.
“And then if they don’t welcome you or listen to you, as you leave, shake the dust off your feet as a witness against them.” Isn’t that terrible that you would shake the dust off your feet in witness against them! Actually, what could do them less harm than shaking off dust? No grudge, no vengeance, no retribution, you let it go like dust off your feet. Your “witness against them” is non-violent and does no harm to either you or them. It is a witness of peace even toward those who reject you. In this way your spirit remains pure and non-toxic so that you can continue to participate in casting out unclean spirits in communities that are full of them.
“So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” To repent is to realize that their old way of living doesn’t work anymore and they want to embrace a new way. We are so blessed because Jesus has shown us this new way. It is a new way and many in the church world-wide would be astounded if they heard the gospel afresh and not filtered through layers of Christian history and contradictory interpretation. We have been blessed! Amen.