In last week’s passage, we saw Jesus exorcising bad religion as he cast out the “impure spirit” of a man inside the synagogue. The reflection challenged the traditional reading of the text. What if the impure spirit didn’t so much reflect the possessed man? What if it was actually a reflection of the religious authorities?
This week, we read that Jesus enters Peter’s home and the “whole city gathered at the door.”
In cities all over the world, there are many “doors” around which people gather in pursuit of healing, restoration and good news. The doors of the church should be just such a place. Sadly, they are often the polar opposite.
Last week I journeyed through the shadow of death with a precious family that lives near the Guatemala City landfill. Their sixteen year old daughter, who had deeply touched my life during a two-year fight with cancer, had finally lost her battle. If I’ve ever met anyone whose life qualified for sainthood, it was hers. She endured the agony of cancer with incredible fortitude and faith. Upon completion of her first round of chemotherapy, the nurses at the hospital were so inspired they gave her a doll dressed up in Mayan clothing. It was a symbol of her courageous spirit. A few days later, she gave that same doll to me as a present for my daughter. That doll (and what it symbolizes) has become one of our family’s most treasured possessions.
The funeral “service” was held on the street in front of her house. It was led by a neighborhood pastor and his assistant who came out of a nearby church building. Without the slightest acknowledgment to those of us who had gathered, they set up a sound system in front of the casket, and placed a huge Bible on a makeshift pulpit. The assistant led us through 3 lifeless songs before the “pastor” delivered a 45 minute “sermon,” yelling through the cheap sound system while pounding on his mammoth Bible. He only once, and in a cursory manner, said anything about the life of the young woman whose casket lay behind him.
Having completed his tirade, the preacher glanced approvingly at his assistant. He seemed pleased to have so clearly shared the “gospel message.” Then, he promptly packed up his belongings and returned to the church building. He left just as he arrived, without a word to those who had gathered at the “door” of this precious young woman’s life.
We were all shocked. What violence wrapped up in religious clothing! Rarely have I witnessed such bad religion in need of an exorcism. As the family and friends began preparing the casket for the procession to the cemetery, another neighborhood pastor, along with his wife, arrived with Bible in hand. They were a couple I had known and admired for years. The “town” would now be invited to gather at another type of “door.”
Pastor Saúl and his wife stood and embraced the family as they gazed one last time upon the body of their fallen angel. The sound of sobbing and wailing filled the street. The casket was lifted, and the long procession to the cemetery began. Upon reaching the cemetery, the “town” of mourners filled a small corridor waiting for the casket to enter its final resting place.
It was clear that no one knew what to do next. Pastor Saúl, aware of the void, began to weave his way through the crowd, holding his Bible up in the air, until he reached the casket. The closest family members were on the ground, wailing in pain at death’s dark door.
The pastor’s words were laced with empathy. He exemplified to the “whole gathered town” the same tenderness and grace that Jesus had displayed to Peter’s feverish mother-in-law: “so he went to her, took her hand and helped her up.” In the midst of death, Pastor Paul’s presence was a beacon of life.
Oh for the courage to exorcise bad religion. For the strength to embrace the kind of incarnational presence that enters through the doors of suffering and pain and transforms them, just as Jesus did. Those, indeed, become doors truly worthy of gathering around.
Joel Van Dyke Director | Urban Training Collaborative
Street Psalms Guatemala City, Guatemala