How many of us have faced a situation where, due to a development or change in our political, social, or religious beliefs, we have had to navigate uncomfortable (or even hostile) interactions with members of our communities whose beliefs and opinions no long accord with our own?
Jesus faced this situation:
20-21 Jesus came home and, as usual, a crowd gathered—so many making demands on him that there wasn’t even time to eat. His friends heard what was going on and went to rescue him, by force if necessary. They suspected he was getting carried away with himself.
Jesus had spent most of his life doing the normal mainstream Jewish thing in his Jewish community.
But then he falls in with the radical John the Baptizer who, from the view of the institutional religious community, is preaching heresy and encouraging his followers to doubt their leaders and develop a purer, more individualized relationship with God. He even seeks John’s baptism, symbolizing his formal agreement with John’s heretical agenda. He begins to spread his own message that ruffles feathers in his religious community and gains a following. No wonder his friends are worried about him!
He even catches the attention of his community’s religious leaders. They are not happy. And what do the leaders of any tight-knit community do when members of the community start to challenge their authority? They try to delegitimize the message of the feather-rufflers:
22 The religion scholars from Jerusalem came down spreading rumors that he was working black magic, using devil tricks to impress them with spiritual power.
How does Jesus respond?
Jesus confronted their slander with a story: “Does it make sense to send a devil to catch a devil, to use Satan to get rid of Satan? A constantly squabbling family disintegrates. If Satan were fighting Satan, there soon wouldn’t be any Satan left. Do you think it’s possible in broad daylight to enter the house of an awake, able-bodied man, and walk off with his possessions unless you tie him up first? Tie him up, though, and you can clean him out.
We might paraphrase his answer along these lines: “So… if the message I’m sharing is of the devil, why is it making people happy? Why are they drawing closer to God? Why is it filling them with life, light, joy, and peace? This can’t be from Satan because it’s deepening their relationship with God, and if I were working for Satan why would God send me to do something that frustrates Satan’s agenda? ‘By their fruits they shall be known,’ after all.”
It is often a painful experience to live authentically when it puts us at odds with our friends and family. Our brains have evolved to organize almost all of our thoughts and behavior through group identities and group cohesion. We have evolved to respond quickly and aggressively when someone challenges the cohesion of our group or our group identities.
This is part of the reason why our communities often are not thrilled if we decide to chart a new course with our lives. To a large extent, these reactions are understandable and natural. It is important to try to make a place for grace and remember what it was like at earlier points in our life when we were on the other side of the fence.
At the same time, we can, without malice, show them the fruits of our lives: the happiness, joy, and freedom that we experience. These fruits can also help reassure us that we are doing the best with the light that we have, and that is all God hopes that we will do.