In the Gospel reading today, Jesus is accused of being an agent of Beelzebul, the prince of demons, because he was exorcising a demon from a man that was mute. Jesus addressed the critique and showed the polarizing nature of the onlookers who were unwilling to see the healing before them for what it was. Jesus then stated the obvious: “Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste and house will fall against house” (Lk 11:17).
If Jesus was an agent of the prince of demons, he was not a very good one. Satan seeks to sow discord and division. Jesus seeks to bring about unity. Now it is true, that five verses later in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is recorded as saying: “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” (Lk 12:51). Anyone feeling a bit confused? Welcome to the wonderful world of the Bible!
To understand Scripture, we need to understand the context of the whole of Scripture, not just isolated verses. Throughout the ministry of Jesus, he seeks the unity that all may be one as he and the Father are one (cf. John 17:21), yet he has consistently experienced those that rejected his message and healings as witnessed in today’s Gospel account.
Jesus demands a choice, we need to decide if we are either going to be for him or against him (cf. Lk 11:23). The division Jesus is talking about results from those who choose not to recognize that Jesus is who he says he is and reject him and those who accept him for who he is. This choice continues to cause division within households, families, and friends even today.
The greater take away from this verse and Jesus’ teachings as a whole, is that when we are unified, embracing the gift of our diversity, we are stronger than when we are divided by limiting ourselves to mere labels. In our modern context, labels, such as liberal and conservative are not helpful, whether they are being used in a political or religious context. Life is not as black and white as many would like it to be. It is certainly easier to cast labels, but interactions with people and developing relationships are much more nuanced. We are not mere cardboard cut outs, or caricatures.
To better understand the essence of who we are as human beings demands greater time and experience of each other than an outward appearance or isolated statement may portray. Many more of us, if we shake off any label for a moment, could honestly admit to believing in and supporting issues that are important to us from both sides of the so called left or right.
Many times, once we have cast a label, we believe that we have “defined” the person. They are classified in their box and tied up in a neat and pretty bow, and woe to the person who resists being boxed and bowed. I remember reading from one of the books from the tracker, Tom Brown, Jr., in which he described how many people when seeing a bird, such as a blue jay, robin, or crow, are often satisfied with the label, the naming of it, and move on from that sighting self-satisfied. They think that in that simple identification they now have come to understand all that there is to know about that particular species of bird. So much of the essence of one of God’s amazing creatures is missed by such a simplistic and limiting classification!
Unfortunately, we do the same with each other. We make a prejudgment on a person or group of people because of a word, statement, stance on a particular issue, or particular belief. We then falsely believe we know everything there is to know about that person or group. This is a very limiting and divisive approach. Jesus invites us to encounter the person, to accompany, spend time, and break bread with people. In spending time with one another and being open to dialogue, the caricatures can be filled in with some substance and we can come to know a little better the person beyond the prejudgment.
If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it may very well be a duck, but it is also so much more than its classification. This is so much truer for us as human beings as well.
Photo: One of the visiting ducks at Cardinal Newman as I was getting into my car to go home, reminding me to spend some quiet time enjoying the wonders of God’s creation.