The scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He [Jesus] has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.’ And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.
In yesterday’s reading Jesus was thought to be mad; in today’s he is thought to be possessed by the devil. There’s no telling what people will say; public opinion, someone said, is a lottery. A lottery is a random selection. Language itself is a kind of lottery. You can say the first thing that comes into your mind, and the words stand there as self-assured as if they had been thoughtfully selected. Sometimes the only factor that narrows the selection is the malice of the person speaking. If people called Jesus mad and possessed by the devil, what can they not say about all of us fragile and compromised human beings?
We all have this fatal capacity to speak in ways that injure other people. We have the ingredients of the explosive device: language + malice. Language is the explosive material, and malice is the detonator. (Election campaigns sometimes resemble the conditions of war.)
Or, to change the metaphor once again, language is like a city population. It is a mass of individuals milling in every direction, apparently at random but in fact with a million different purposes, some of which merge but many of which collide. When an individual collides with another the problem is just local. The real problem is when there is a merging of many individuals for an evil purpose. This kind of lower merging has all the attractions of community: mutual esteem and support, banishing painful feelings of self-doubt. Religious fundamentalism of all kinds gives us clear examples of this today. Angry words seem confirmed when many others are repeating them, and when the whole thing gains momentum it screams, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
Jesus was able to step out of society. He would spend nights alone on the mountain. We all need to do something similar – a retreat, a meditation practice, even a long solitary walk – if we are to hold our own against the random floods of language that threaten our sanity. We need it nowadays more than ever before. Meditation is about becoming silent, dropping out of language to some degree. “Anyone who has the word of Jesus as a true possession can also hear his silence.”
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