Jesus has a wild streak – unruly and disturbing – and he seems to bring it out all about him. Especially when people are gathered for prayer.
I imagine every synagogue, every church, every gathering has its own hidden demons. I think we like them that way – hidden, silent, acceptable.
There are things we cannot talk about, issues that insist on silence, invisible line we won’t cross. And we limp along respectably because we couldn’t cope with the fire and the thunderstorm that might erupt if we did. It’s a compromise. A peaceful compromise Jesus disturbs. But look who actually breaks the silence! It takes an unclean spirit to speak for us – and what does it say? – ‘are you going to destroy us?’ The demon has more integrity than the congregation does – it tells it how it is – it sees the threat – the Holy One of God is here, here, and the silence cannot hold any longer – our hidden pact with silence is exposed and our dirty secrets are shrieking in our midst.
It’s age old. Listen to Moses. The people have had enough of God – they want silence – they can’t take any more of the fire and thunderstorm – they want their experience of God silent, seemly and sanitised. And God’s strange answer is to give them prophets – mouthpieces to humanise and tranquillise the voice of the boundless, wild God. But the prophets themselves turn out to be a pretty wild bunch, contriving all manner of means to shock the compromising community into hearing again the raw voice of God. God won’t be tamed. Contain God’s wildness one way and it’ll break out another.
Now am I cheating here? Should I really be praising the wildness like this? Is God’s wild unruliness what is on display in the synagogue today? Or is it something more sinister and divisive? That’s our problem I think. We have a job telling those two wild spirits apart. And this is the clue to Jesus’s authority – he doesn’t. He tells them apart and tells the unclean spirit to be silent. He restores silence. But it’s a different silence. It’s buzzing. Focused and full of God’s own wild unruly spirit. Honest. Open. Undefended.
And it asks us a question – if we each see ourselves as that synagogue for a moment and listen to the clamour and the compromise, the dirty secrets and wild hopes, the voices of blame and praise inside us – what would Jesus silence in us and what would he stir up?