Avoiding the Diabolical
June 10, 2018
Jesus finds himself in the midst of a violent controversy in today’s gospel. His family, the scribes, and the people of Galilee are trying to decide who he is and what he is about. Some of the possibilities they consider are not positive. His relatives think that he is out of his mind. Some of the scribes suggest that he is an agent of Beelzebul, which is a name for the devil. Still others conclude that he has an unclean spirit.
These controversies about Jesus can seem irrelevant to us, because we have already decided who Jesus is. We believe him to be the Christ, the Son of the living God. But place yourself as a first-century Galilean: You see this traveling preacher pass through your village, gathering crowds and performing powerful signs. Would it not be sensible, even prudent, for you to ask, “Whose power is on display here? Is this man’s mission genuine or some kind of trick? And how would you make that determination? How would you know whether Jesus’ ministry was for good or for ill, whether it flowed from God or from the devil?
The Greek language can help us here because the Greek word that is often used to refer to the devil is diabolos. From this comes the English word “diabolical,” which means “from the devil.” The root sense of diabolos is “the one who divides, the one who scatters.” This word tells us is that what is characteristic about the devil is that he divides. He pits one person against the other. He pulls things apart. He tears things down. Now, do these actions characterize the mission of Jesus? Not at all. Jesus is not a divider but one who calls people together. He welcomes the leper and the sinner. He challenges those who hear him to collaborate in building the kingdom of God. Jesus’ work is not about division but about unity, not about pulling things apart but about welcoming people in.
As his disciples today, we should recognize that this mission of pulling together is still Jesus’ will for us. That is why when members of our family turn against one another or friends begin to tear one another down, we know in our hearts this is not of God. This is why when we see the polarization in our country, with people with different ideologies hurling insults and demeaning one another, we know in our gut this is not Christ’s will.
Jesus is not about division and scattering. Jesus is about unity and calling people together. The great symbol of our Catholic tradition is the Eucharist, the banquet of the Lord. Here we gather. Here we sing together. We hear the word of God as one community. We extend peace to one another. Here together we receive the body and blood of the Lord. The Eucharist is our symbol of unity. And, by the way, the Greek word for symbol is symbolon, which is the opposite of diabolos. Diabolos means to divide. Symbolon is a pulling together.
So as we stand here at this symbol of our unity, let us commit ourselves to be people who pull things together, who work across divisions for unity, who build things up rather than tear things down. Such an attitude would show us to be disciples of Jesus. That would be good news for everyone, because the opposite attitude is diabolical.