January 28 2018 READINGS: Deuteronomy 18: 15-20 ~ 1 Corinthians 8: 1-13 ~ Mark 1: 21-28
Healing of Unclean Spirits
We live in very confusing times. Between fake news, misinformation and things that make absolutely no sense, it’s as if the unclean spirits of mischief and mayhem are having a field day with us. In an age where common sense isn’t common, and truth gets distorted, it can be hard to figure out what to believe and who to listen to.
In ancient times, people of faith had a similar problem. The idea was that the God would speak to the people through the prophets. The problem was that – even back then – there were both false prophets and the real thing. False prophets often aligned themselves with the powers of the day, speaking what their leaders wanted people to hear. And it wasn’t much help to know that the test of a true prophet is that their words come to pass. Great to ponder in hindsight but not really helpful in the moment.
One way of navigating through the noise of chaos and confusion, then and now, is to become familiar with the voice and ways of God. God’s voice is usually calling us to a way of life that is loving, healing and life giving for all creation. It never favours the rich and powerful, but always has a care for the disadvantaged.
I am pretty sure Jesus would have much to say about all the fake news that pollutes our airwaves. Probably something in line with Pope Francis’ comments denouncing “fake news” as evil and urging journalists to make it their mission to seek out the truth as opposed to falsehoods, rhetorical slogans, and sensational headlines.
And we have a responsibility as listeners and receivers of information. It is our task to think about what we are hearing and ask ourselves, Does it ring true? Or are we allowing ourselves to be taken in by fear mongering, hatred and outright lies, for these are the things that open the door to the unclean spirit of demonizing the other as justification for discrimination and violence. It is the very opposite of Jesus’ call to love and compassion.
And the church community is not immune to fearmongering, falsehoods and gossip. That is why Paul warns us to guard our tongues and ears, to discern what is true and to speak the truth in love. Faith communities are where we gather to tune our hearts, tongues and ears to the ways of God as shown to us in Jesus. And as Pope Francis says, when it comes misinformation, None of us can feel exempted from the duty of countering these falsehoods. It is our duty to challenge distortions and fabrications and try and bring the truth to light.
Well, healing people of unclean spirits was a common part of Jesus’ ministry and the inauguration of the kingdom. It was also his practice to bring to light unfair and flawed social practices. And, as his followers, we are called to do the same.
So, I’m going to change gears now and tell you a true story about the unclean spirit of a seriously flawed practice that regularly sets up young people to fail.
This is the story of Gasica, who some of you met here a few weeks ago. Gasica is young Muslim man from Zanzibar. Because his mother encouraged education, Gasica went to school regularly. At age 14 he took and failed the all-important Primary School Leaving Exam. This meant he was ineligible to enroll in a government-funded secondary school.
His only alternative was to attend one of the sub-standard schools open to kids who don’t pass the exam. Gasica knew this was a waste of time but his mother said, If you want to live at home you have to go to school. So Gasica went to live on the street.
Now, as some of you are aware, this story has a happy ending. But the part that stuck with me is the reason why Gasica and many of the children in Zanzibar fail that all important exam. The problem is that the children are taught in their native tongue, Swahili. The all important Primary School leaving exam is in English. Talk about an unclean spirit at work! It makes absolutely no sense. As Gasica pointed out, it would be somewhat akin to asking our kids to write their final exams in Chinese.
Well, while Gasica was living on the street, a stranger asked why he wasn’t in school. Gasica explained and the man – who worked nearby – offered to teach him English on his lunch break, so, an hour a day. It took Gasica about 6 months to start to master our language and that’s when he paid it forward by giving other young people English lessons.
As the number of students grew, the community got behind him and helped him find a simple classroom space. Gasica worked by day and taught in the evenings with a broken blackboard. This is also when he rewrote and passed that infamous exam.
The local media picked up his story. His mother heard what he was doing and gave him a shell of a building to turn into a more suitable school…and things took off from there. The Rotary Club helped raise funds to expand, finish and equip the school. And in an odd twist of fate, the 27-year-old Gasica is now both founder and headmaster of the Zanzibar Learning 4 Life Foundation.
In their own way, Gasica and the stranger confronted the unclean spirit of a seriously flawed practice and brought healing. As we follow Jesus from the beginning of his ministry to the cross and resurrection, we witness him bringing healing and wholeness to individuals and communities as he goes. He challenges all that is wrong and plants the life-giving seeds of the kingdom.
Learning and practicing the way of Jesus until it becomes second nature is one way of navigating the noise and chaos of this world. It also empowers us to confront those unclean spirits that make life unnecessarily difficult for others. It all begins with our learning and following the ways of God as shown to us in Jesus.
Note: I am pleased to tell you that parish council voted to give $1000 of our designated Mission and Outreach money to the Zanzibar Learning for Life Foundation.