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Third Sunday in Lent--March 26, 2000
Fr. William Sisterman
St. Dunstan's Anglican Church, Minneapolis, MN 
Readings: Ephesians 5:1-14 and Luke 11:14-28
 

Jesus said, "He who is not with me is against me and he who does not gather with me scatters."  

Sometimes it's easy for us to think that whatever Jesus did was simply understood by the people for whom he did them. That wasn't always the case. Today's Gospel reading is an example of how Jesus was very much misunderstood. He had just healed a man who was dumb. Matthew's Gospel, recounting the same incident, says that he was deaf and dumb. Jesus cast out a demon, healed the man and he was able to speak and hear. The reaction of the people was very interesting. His enemies, the Pharisees said, "He must be possessed himself that he has this power over demons." 

He was really misunderstood in Mark's Gospel. He recounts some other details. When His family heard about this, they came to take charge of Him saying, "He is out of His mind." The scribes who arrived in Jerusalem asserted, "He is possessed by Beelzebub." Even the people who knew him best, his family and friends said, "He's crazy. He's gone around the bend. He's bonkers. He's a cup and saucer short of a full set. What are we going to do with him? Maybe if we bundle him off back home to a quiet room for a while, he'll come to his senses. After all, what is all of this nonsense that he's preaching about? The kingdom of God is being established? Probably nothing wrong with him that a little Prozac wouldn't take care of in short order." He was really misunderstood. 

And his enemies misunderstand him even more. "He's possessed" Jesus with simple logic says, "How could I be possessed? If I'm possessed and I'm doing this, then you've got a civil war on your hands. You've got Satan casting out Satan. That isn't the way it is. If Satan is being cast out, you know that the kingdom of God is in your midst." 

That word that we hear in today's Gospel - Beelzebul - Beelzebub in other translations is an interesting one. Beelzebul, used in many translations, means "Baal the Prince". Baal was the god of the Canaanites and the Philistines. His name was synonymous with all that was evil. So they gave Satan the name Beelzebul. The Hebrews deliberately corrupted the name. Instead of saying Beelzebul, they put a "b" at the end of the word -Beelzebub. Used in our reading this morning, it means "Lord of the Flies". Jesus had come to deal with Satan, with evil. Eventually, surrounded by people who would misunderstand him, He would defeat Satan once and for all on the cross. But those who would misinterpret His motives would first of all arrest him, try him, and crucify him on a bloody tree outside the city gates. Now that is being misunderstood. 

What is it that Jesus could have done to make his message more apparent? More clear? So that there wouldn't be these misunderstandings? Nothing. He had come to do the will of his heavenly Father. If it meant at times that whatever he did was misunderstood, so be it. Probably one of the most graphic times in which Jesus was misunderstood, we find in the sixth chapter of John's Gospel. John narrates the teaching of Jesus about the Holy Eucharist: 

I am the bread of life which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever. And the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world. 

Now you put this to the people during a teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum and the reaction was predictable. 

"After hearing his words, many of his disciples remarked, 'This sort talk is hard to endure. How can anyone take it seriously?' From that time on, many of his disciples broke away and would not remain in his company any longer." 

Jesus didn't go running after them and say, "Wait a minute. You misunderstood me. I'm only speaking in symbolic ways here." No. His words were truth and life. "My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink." 

You can imagine how low Jesus felt at having been rejected in that way. Jesus then said to the twelve, "Do you want to leave me too?" 

Simon Peter answered him. (Here's one place where Simon Peter gets it right!) "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe. We are convinced that you are God's Holy One." A strong act of faith on Peter's part. 

Jesus was considered by some to be mad, by some to be possessed. Misunderstood. If we transfer to our time, we can see that it happens even now. God's Word is strong and right and true. And yet it can be misunderstood. And motives can be misunderstood. Motives of ministry. Not only priest's motives, but people too, because we are all called to ministry and we can be misunderstood. We endure the pain of that misunderstanding. And it does hurt. 

Why is it that something as wonderful, as beautiful as God's Word can be so easily misunderstood? Perhaps it is because we want to compromise God's Word. We can't believe that Jesus would be that much in love with his Father that he would behave in that way. We can't believe that any disciple could be so enamoured of his relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior that He would say and do the things that he does. 

You might consider this. When I heard that shortly before his release from prison Charles Colson had experienced a conversion, I was. to say the least, skeptical. This was the man that said he would trample on his mother to accomplish his political ends. I couldn't believe that this man could have had this kind of conversion. He was probably out there to sell a book or to make himself look good. Well, it is many years later and he is still involved in prison ministry. He was authentic. But my judgment was, "Oh, he can't be that enthusiastic about the Lord." Yes, he was. 

A prisoner on death row in Texas about to be executed says, "I forgive you. I ask your forgiveness for what I have done. I have given my life to my Savior Jesus Christ." Our thinking is, "He's probably saying that in order to make himself look good so that he can have his sentence commuted." 

It's easy for us to be cynical, isn't it? Why is that? Because we can't really believe that other people can be that much enamored of Jesus Christ. Because we aren't. We want to compromise our belief. We want to compromise what we know. So we say, "That person is crazy. Or he's possessed." How easy it is for us to do that. No wonder Jesus was so misunderstood. 

He used that misunderstanding for a greater good. It was redemptive for all of us. Now, thank heavens, we haven't very much time left for this Lenten season. Just another four weeks. But it is ample time for us to consider our sins and to seek the forgiveness of the Lord for those personal sins which we have committed; perhaps to submit them to the Lord in the Sacrament of Penance. It is a season for us as well to examine how we judge others; what we do with that judgment. 

Do we believe that someone can be that much in love with one's God as so many truly are? Can we believe that? Can we be that way ourselves? Jesus has shown us the way. He has given us the grace to do it. Let's be a people who follow the Lord's way no matter what. If that means that we risk being called crazy - so be it! 
 

Please note: These sermons are offered for your meditation. If you wish to use them for some other purpose or republish them, please credit St. Dunstanís Church and Fr. Sisterman.