Jesus and his disciples went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’ At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
A man with an unclean spirit … cried out: What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?
Notwithstanding the many different facets of our current national situation, we all find ourselves, at some time or other saying: ‘What is that to do with us?’ Despite living in a rural situation, the rural mentality of ‘communal responsibility’ has been largely overtaken by a sense of urban self-interest. That may sound a sweeping statement, but … it is a fact that in most contemporary rural communities over seventy per cent of the residents are people who have moved into the ‘rural life’ from urban and suburban settings. The self-sufficient and mutually co-operative ways in which villages worked in earlier times have been superseded by those who are still engaged with communities that have no true understanding of the rural situation. It is in such a context that many will see and hear of issues that elicit the response: ‘What is that to do with us?’
As in the concept of the rural ‘idyll’, so with our understanding of the concept of ‘Church’. The rural ‘idyll’ of everyone knowing and getting along with each other is a confused misunderstanding of how, in earlier times, mutual cooperation and support was essential for a complex and often underprivileged social dynamic to work. Similarly, the idea of the Church being a beautiful building in which ‘nice’ people gather to sing hymns and say prayers is based on a profound misunderstanding of what it means to belong to a Church. The false impression many have of the ‘rural idyll’ is based on a lack of understanding that the historically concerted approach to rural life grew from necessity, not from naivety. The false notions surrounding the meaning of ‘Church’ is also based in an historic dis-connect. The ‘Church’ is about community, it is about people sharing in a Christian faith and a desire to live out that faith with those amongst whom they live and work. A church building is important, but only as a focal point in which Christians can gather to be fed and inspired to carry on their true task of proclaiming the good news of God’s kingdom.
The situation through which we are all living at the moment has had a polarising effect on many communities, including ours. Many people have ‘rallied round’ and provided a genuinely moving level of support to those who are most vulnerable. But, it has also pushed some to the other extreme, the extreme of seeing need and then saying: ‘What is that to do with us?’ Whilst we must thank God for those who have put themselves out to provide help and support, we must also question the motivations of those whose panic buying has created bizarre shortages, for example. The problem is, you see, that the question: ‘What is that to do with us?’ is closely associated with the exact opposite of Christian love.
In earlier times the word used instead of ‘love’ was ‘charity’. In more recent times, the word ‘charity’ has become loaded with inferences and undercurrents that have served to separate us from its true meaning. Sometimes the only way in which Christian love can be demonstrated is in the way the Good Samaritan tended the man who had been brutally attacked. He did not seek recompense, he just gave kindness and care. He did not walk by as he asked: ‘What is that to do with me?’ In today’s reading we need to take especial note that this destructive question was asked by the unclean spirit that was being exorcised by Jesus. As we look at the community in which we live, let us not join with that unclean spirit in distancing ourselves from the good and the loving. Rather, let us marvel at the new teaching of Jesus Christ and bring his light and love into the lives of others.