Today’s selection is from The Way of Jesus Christ and includes an awesome word that you will want to know and use if you don’t already: plenipotentiary. YES! Bur first, we have to talk about those awkward demon stories…
The expulsion of demons and the healing of the sick are the mark of Jesus’ ministry from the very beginning. They also belonged to the messianic mission of his disciples. What do they mean? Miraculous healings and exorcisms were common enough elsewhere in the ancient world as well. We find them in the ancient civilizations of Asia and Africa. They also exist beneath the surface of modern Western civilization. But in Jesus’ case their context is unique; for this context is the dawn of the lordship of the divine life in this era of Godless death. The lordship of God drives out of creation the powers of destruction, which are demons and idols, and heals the created beings who have been damaged by them. If the kingdom of God is coming as Jesus proclaimed, the salvation is coming as well. If salvation comes to the whole creation, then the health of all created beings is the result- health of body and soul, individual and community, human beings and nature. That is why the people who gather round Jesus are shown to be not so much ‘sinners’ as sick. Suffering men and women come to Jesus because they seek healing…
Quick pause here to note how Moltmann describes healing as a return to full and abundant life. Jesus gives evidence of his lordship over the earth and over death by bringing health and life where it is lacking.
In the discussion about Jesus’ miracles, the connection between the healing of the sick and the expulsion of demons is often overlooked…It is only when Jesus appears with his message that the sick and the possessed emerge from the darkness into which they had been banished, and press forward to him. This is not chance. When the doctor comes, the sick appear. When salvation approaches, disaster becomes manifest. When the kingdom of God is close, the forces that resist God are given a name and made to disappear.
This is interesting to note, and to remember. And it feels a little bit counter-intuitive, at least to me. I tend to think of the light scattering the dark, and imagine creepy crawly things scampering away when a beam is turned on them. And I do think that happens. But what Moltmann is saying here is the opposite: that when a light beam comes on, creepy crawly things scamper toward the light and then make a scene. And from these gospel stories of healing, that seems true. The demons never go quietly. They make a scene and ask Jesus why he is tormenting them and coming to destroy them. It is a different kind of exposure, one that speaks to our own experiences, perhaps, of doing social justice only to see the water get muddier before it gets clear. It almost always gets worse when you are working to make it better. And I wonder how that might make us read “the light has come into the world and the darkness did not overcome it” differently and more deeply than we normally do. Ok, on we go, to this fantastic next part:
These demons…rouse the death-wish in human beings. Even if we do not imagine these forces of destruction in personal terms, to accept them permits us to interpret phenomena of torment between soul and body, between one human being and another, and in whole social systems…
The gospels do not merely draw the portrait of the miracle-man, who is in possession of extraordinary powers; they paint the picture of God’s messianic plenipotentiary, who de-demonizes the world, and through ‘the powers of the age to come’ (Heb. 6:5) makes the world whole and free and reasonable. When God sets up his rule over his world, and the Creator has compassion on his creation, it is not extraordinary that the sick should become well and devils should be expelled; it is a matter of course…They point to the bodily character of salvation and to the God who loves earthly life.
I don’t know what you think about demons. Honestly, I don’t know what I think about demons. But every last one of us could tell stories of how we have seen demons rouse the death wish in people we know and love. How we’ve seen something that can only be described as destructive and anti-life find its foothold in the people and systems around us. And if there’s any way we understand salvation, it is that thing that happens when the foothold of the death-wish is loosened and that person or system is set free.
So here we come to our fancy word, plenipotentiary. It means someone who comes on full authority, someone who is invested with complete power to do what they are sent by their kingdom/government to do. In this case, Jesus is God’s plenipotentiary, the One God sends with full authority to work for life on behalf of the kingdom of God. And that work is to de-demonize the world, to loosen all those death-wish bonds that may have caught us when our feet were meant to be moving toward life instead. And when those bonds are loosened, the world becomes whole and free and reasonable.
I love that definition of salvation, of the reign of God. It is free and whole and reasonable. And so it only makes sense that people and systems and governments would, under such authority, be healed and be fully alive. It is a matter of course. It is by design. It is what was always intended.
As we approach Holy Week, the shadows and the demons will come out. They always do this time of year, like clockwork. So we hold fast to our trust in Jesus, God’s plenipotentiary, whose light will not be overcome by any darkness, and whose job it is to de-demonize this world and release us all back to life.
Hold on until Easter. That death wish is coming, but it won’t reign for long.