This is one of those stories the disciples probably told for years. Long after Jesus was gone and when some of those who had originally witnessed the event were dead; people were still talking about their first trip to Capernaum Quarter. And like a lot of fishing stories, I’m guessing it got bigger each time they told it. Don’t forget, we’re talking about fisherman from the eastern side of the Sea of Pamlico, they weren’t a regular bunch. Maybe it’s sometime right after the resurrection or the ascension. It’s hard for me to keep track of time. Right now, last week seems like last year. I do know this: I can hear Peter telling the story like it was yesterday:
Peter said, “Do you remember the first time me and Jesus went up to Capernaum Quarter to preach?” He had a bad habit of leaving other people out of his memories.
Andy, his brother, called out from the back of the room. “There were eleven of us there, you dingbatter[i], we all remember.” More than anything in the world, Peter hated being mommicked[ii] by his younger brother. He especially disliked being called a dingbatter.
“I ain’t no dingbatter,” Peter said. “I was born’d and raised right here in Tiberius just like you and our momma, our daddy, and our momma’s daddy, and daddy’s momma.”
James yelled from the back of the room, “He’s messing with you, you rock headed dingbat”. (Jesus began the tradition of calling Simon Peter “Rock”. He was sturdy, strong, and a little thick at times.) James and his brother John fought like Peter and Andrew. Somehow, with Jesus gone, James managed to help keep Peter’s fragile ego in check.
Yes, they all remembered. How could they forget? Peter continued, now reluctantly acknowledging the presence of ten other individuals.
“We walked into the synagogue. It was nothing like the little teaching rooms we had.” He paused for dramatic effect. Peter wanted them all to remember their tiny one room Torah school houses where a traveling rabbi came once a week, on the Sabbath, across the lake, to teach them how to read scripture.
“This was one of them real fancy places. They had chairs and everything. People could sit down and actually pay attention to what was being said.” Their own synagogue never sprang for benches, chairs, or pews. Hence their overall amazement at houses of worship with adequate and comfortable seating.
He went on. “I don’t know if they knew Jesus was coming but when we walked into the room everybody stared at us. Whether it was the fish smell, we looked like tourists, or people knew Jesus was the visiting Rabbi, I never figured it out.”
“It’s because you didn’t sign the guest book,” said Philip. “We all put nametags on and you were the only one who didn’t have a ‘Hello My Name Is’ sticker”.
Peter was used to tuning Philip out. “We stood out like a sore thumb. I don’t know if that’s what caused them to ask Jesus or like I said, if they knew he was coming. But at some point, after the Torah reading, the Rabbi there pointed right at him and said, we got this young, up and coming teacher from over in Nazareth-mouth and he’s here with us today and I’d like to ask him to say a word on the text. That’s when it got crazy.”
“I mean, I thought Jesus was amazing when he with us; you know, his people skills, his listening ability, and they way he made you feel like you’re the most important person in the world. But this was different. Put him in front of a crowd, the man was electric.”
Peter was really wound up. “He connected with the whole group but at the same time with every person as an individual. Do y’all remember what that was like, the first time you ever heard or felt that? Sometimes I think we forget.”
Thomas, who never said much of anything, mumbled something from back of the room. “I noticed it.” “He made me think about God in ways I’d never considered before. I’m naturally a skeptic but I couldn’t argue with this.”
“Everybody there was just like ol’ Tom,” said Peter. “They were a murmurin’, a thinkin’, a reflectin’ on what they were hearin’ like they’d never been to synagogue before. That’s what they were sayin’ outloud. This guy is unlike anybody we ever heard before.”
I don’t want to brag but they used words like “amazed”, “teaches with authority”, and “astounding”. The kind of phrases you’d see advertising a movie, except these weren’t from small papers no one had ever heard of and those words represented the consensus of the entire room.
Jesus wasn’t like the radio, TV, and internet preachers. He knew what he was talking about.
Peter paused a second time for an even greater length of time. He wanted to pretend he was the only one who knew what was coming. “We’d never seen anything like this before. If this is what fishing for people was going to be like, if it was going to be this easy, man were we glad we said yes. This was easier than hauling in nets and everybody loved us.”
“They loved him,” said James. “You were standing in the corner.”
“Yeah,” said Peter. “They loved him until it got weird.”
“When the going gets weird, the weird go to Capernaum Quarter.” I think that’s the town motto.
“So there we were; loving the Lord, having a good time with Jesus’ teaching and his authority when out of the clear blue this fellow who’d been in the crowd jumps ugly. I mean he was crazy, shouting, and swearing like a drunken fisherman. In fact, I’ve been a drunken fisherman and I didn’t know such words existed.”
“What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are. You are the holy one from God,” said the angry man.
First thing Jesus did was to tell him to shut the Hell up! He was a demon after all. “Silence,” Jesus says.
Peter pauses for a third time. “Do y’all remember how Jesus told him to shut up?” With each time Peter told the story, the man became crazier and crazier. His demons grew stranger. In one version, he’d be foaming at the mouth. Another time, his eyes would be red and he’d be barking like a dog. Truth is, the man was sick, sad, and possessed. Yes, they remembered. How could they forget? No one would ever forget Jesus telling a demon to “shut the hell up”. Speaking harshly, that’s what your Bible says. Peter always laughed at how the Bible cleans up “his” story.
“The man, demon, or whatever it was inside of him didn’t want to give up that easy.” Some of the disciples didn’t think Jesus could do it by words alone. They weren’t sure he wouldn’t have to be drug out of there and taught a lesson. But that wasn’t how Jesus operated. That’s not what this story is about.
How did Jesus operate? On one level, it’s about Jesus shattering the line between routine and ritual. He’s come into this synagogue, a place of established tradition and practice, and mixed it up so much so that a choice becomes clear: Jesus’ way is different from what’s being offered at the present. His way is not just astounding and amazing. It’s also rooted in authority; it’s backed up with scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. Jesus’ teaching makes sense and works on multiple levels.
Jesus’ astounding teaching and general level of awesomeness is something that we easily forget and take for granted. And like the man with the issues, the man who cries out in anger, we’ve heard everything Jesus has to say (and done so for the bulk of our lives) and we still need our catharsis. We need our silencing moment. We need to be made clean. My question is this: how is it with your demons this morning?
Our Bibles refer to this man as “unclean”. In Greek that translates as a-cathartic. You know from English that if you place an “a” in front of a word it negates its meaning. An atheist is someone who is not a theist, someone who doesn’t believe in God. If something is amoral, it is not moral. If something is not cathartic, it’s not released; it’s pent up in anger and frustrations. We talk about the need for catharsis after trauma and other powerful emotional events. Jesus enables the man to go through a catharsis.
Here’s the thing: we all need to be able to go through a catharsis with Jesus from time to time. What’s that confrontation we’re going to have with Jesus that’s going to put us in a healthier place? We may not be the guy jumping up and screaming, “What have you to do with us?” but that doesn’t mean we don’t need the catharsis, to be released from our own demons, and make some kind of acknowledgement that Jesus Christ is the holy one of God.
- An uplander who has come to eastern North Carolina.
The term is used by residents of eastern North Carolina, including residents of Beaufort (originally for people from any place farther west than Morehead City).
- To harass or bother (someone or something).
Thank you to Clarence for helping inspire this and most every sermon I try and sometimes preach.
-Rev. Richard Bryant