The Gospel text for this week begins with an odd little proverb. What was Jesus talking about with the disciple and the master and then the introduction of Beelzebul (and even though spell-check prefers Beelzebub, Matthew clearly preferred the bul ending – he was known as the “Lord of the Flies” and if that doesn’t bring back memories of high school literature class, you went to a different school). It’s probably not helpful to spend a lot of time on the etymology or interpretation of Beelzebul, most just understand it as an alternative name for Satan. These two verses do, however, provide an excellent launch into the theme for this week in our “Open Our Eyes” series. The point seems to be, “Whom do you listen to?”
Too often, we only listen to ourselves; that’s the disciple being greater than the master part of the proverb. To listen to a master, an expert, takes humility—which is in short supply these days. And if that self is the head of a house, the leader of a community, and takes on the role of the Lord of the Flies, then self becomes the center of existence for the whole household, and brokenness results.
Who do you hear? “So have no fear of them.” Who are the them that Jesus refers to here? The them who follow Beelzebul, or the them who listen only to themselves, who acknowledge no master, no expert? Well, yes, both, or any really. “Have no fear” is one of Jesus’ favorite lines. Have no fear of those who want to diminish your witness. Have no fear of those who tell a different story. Have no fear of those who might oppose you or attack you. Have no fear of them. All your energy and respect and awe go to the one who holds you in the palm of the hand—the one who holds your soul.
“What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered proclaim from the housetops” (v.27). What you hear, that speaks of the voice of God, in the dark, tell in the light. What could that mean? What if, in our context, it means that sometimes God speaks in unlikely places or through unexpected people? That means we must be listening to the world, to the people around us. We need to hear all the people. And of course, not everything said speaks of or from God. Do we really need to say that? Maybe we do. There is plenty spoken in our world today that is the antithesis of what God is whispering in our ears and other ears. This isn’t a call to baptize every word spoken. It isn’t a call to claim “it’s all good!” Because it clearly isn’t all good. But there is good being spoken. This is a call to listen and discern. And when we hear it, when we hear the voice of God in the voice of the people around us, then we proclaim it. Or when we hear a cry from the people that is a call to God, then we bring it into the light.
When we hear all the people, we find that God is at work. We sometimes think that God only has us. “Our hands are the only hands God has.” While the sentiment is understandable, that idea isn’t the whole truth. God is at work beyond us, above us, around us. Sometimes the call is to catch up to what God is doing. And how will we know what God is doing if we don’t listen to the people around us?
It isn’t easy or comfortable business. Sometimes, because of what we hear, we then cause problems. We make divisions; we call out injustice and oppression. We disturb the status quo. That is the sword that Jesus brought and now hands to us to wield, not to bring violence, not to destroy, but to bring truth and justice to a world sorely lacking both. That is the result of this proclaiming in the light thing.
And notice we aren’t permitted to proclaim in the darkness. We don’t hint and suggest and whisper. We shout. We must be confident in the truth that comes from God. We have to be sure of what we proclaim. Does it match the God Jesus presents to us? Does it represent the truth that Jesus came to proclaim? Is the sword we wield a sword of our frustration and our anger and our prejudice, or is it the sword of Christ’s truth?
We have to be committed to Christ, above all else. That’s a hard word to hear. Above all else. Matthew remembers it this way: “whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.” Whew, a hard word indeed. But what if we understood that to mean first, that it’s not a competition. We aren’t measuring how much we love and who we love more. Rather, we’re realizing that our love for fathers and mothers and anyone is complete only when we love like Christ loved. That was the command, “love one another, as I have loved you.” When we love Christ first, then we are enabled to love others. Accepting Christ’s transforming love equips us, transforms us, so that we can love.
All things of the spirit take time. We have to grow into this way of loving, this way of being in the world. We can talk about many practices that help us grow in love. But one practice we are recommending in this series is that we open our ears and hear all the people.