Thought for the Day by Adriaan van Klinken (All Hallows)
“You are demon possessed!”
It happened during my first weekend in Nairobi, Kenya. On Saturday, I was taken out by a couple of local young men to whom I’d been introduced by a British-Kenyan friend. They took me out to some gay clubs in Nairobi, and we had fun! (Whoever tells me that there’s no gay scene in those parts of Africa, I can now prove wrong.)
The next Sunday morning, I woke up with a slight hangover, realising that I’d come to Kenya for a research project on Pentecostal churches. So to church I went. Halfway the service, the pastor invited a woman to the stage, introducing her as “the prophetess”. She started speaking in tongues and prophesying, claiming that she’d received messages from God for some people in church. I happened to be one of them. I was the only one being called to the stage. She said she could see an evil spirit in my life, from which I needed to be delivered. I had no choice but to kneel. She started pushing me and praying over me, louder and louder. I quietly wondered whether she might have seen me clubbing the night before. What if she truly was a Woman of God and had a gift of discernment? In any case, the deliverance failed. The gay spirit, or whatever she had discerned, is still in me.
In today’s reading from the Gospel of John, Jesus is accused of being demon possessed. The reason being that the crowd is upset by his teaching. Jesus had claimed that his wisdom is not his own, but is a gift from the one who had sent him. Apparently, there was something in Jesus – a spirit, or the Spirit? – that the crowd could not place. And as often happens, when people encounter something that is different, they stigmatise it. They label it as strange, as alien, even as demonic. That’s the excuse for them – for us – not to engage with the person we encounter and who, somehow, is other than us.
Jesus corrects the crowds, telling them to “stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.” This message goes against our human tendency to label others, and to stigmatise and demonise them on the basis of such labels. Judging people correctly is only possible if we begin by acknowledging that every human being reflects the image of God. As the prophet Jeremiah puts it, God “is the Maker of all things”. If we fail to recognise that, we are “senseless and without knowledge”.