Does anyone else find it odd that Jesus, when someone first recognizes who he really is, responds by telling him to be quiet? And he doesn’t just say, “Shhh… Don’t tell anyone.” He says something we’re not allowed to say in my house: He tells that evil spirit: “Shut up!” or more literally, “Muzzle it!”—like a dog. (We have to be careful about being too Jesus-like sometimes; he could be pretty rude!)
But why didn’t he want that unclean spirit running around telling everyone that he was God’s Holy One? Wasn’t it good to get the word out—even if it’s from an unclean spirit?
I wonder if Jesus, instead of telling everyone who he was, or having an unclean spirit do it, wanted to show everyone what it means to be God’s Holy One. Unlike some of the religious leaders of his time, in particular some of them who were know-it-alls, telling people all the time what God wanted, but not really doing it, Jesus was showing people what God wanted. So instead of letting that evil spirit tell everyone who he was, he showed who he was as God’s Holy One, by healing the man who was in the power of that evil spirit.
Showing, not telling, is what Jesus wanted to do. Jesus wanted to show us God’s power to heal, not shine the spotlight on himself. And I’ll bet that’s what he would want us to do, too: Show that we are his followers by doing the work of healing God gives us to do, instead of telling everyone that we go to church. That sounds easy enough, right?
Well, maybe not—and it wasn’t easy from the very beginning. In that first reading, St. Paul is having an argument with some people in his church. They think that they are showing how much they believe in Jesus by eating meat sacrificed to the Greek and Roman gods. Since they don’t believe in those “idols,” they eat that food and they don’t worry about it, even though what they are doing is upsetting some other people in the church. They have been telling the more scrupulous people to get over it.
But Paul tells the meat-eaters that they are wrong: They aren’t showing what it means to follow Jesus; they are just “showing off,” being the same kind of religious know-it-alls that made Jesus mad. Paul says that their showing off is actually the opposite of showing that they follow Jesus, because what they are doing isn’t loving to their fellow Christians. Paul says he’d rather be a vegetarian than make it harder for people who are struggling in their faith. The difference between showing that we follow Jesus and showing off is how we are loving one another.
So how to do we show that we follow Jesus, without showing off? How do we know we are on the right track? I think Jesus and Paul both give us something to go on.
First, if we want to show the work that God is doing in Jesus, we will be taking part in the healing work that he did. After all, the religious word “salvation” means “health,” and “Savior” is a word for Jesus that means “healer.” If what we do helps people get better, and helps us get better, if it feeds hungry people and helps them get a fair share, if it heals sick people and helps them be well, if it makes our school or our workplace safer for everyone, if it helps cast out the evil spirits of racism and bullying and other kinds meanness to and fear of people, then we are probably on the right track.
And second, whatever we do, however we show that we follow Jesus, we must work always to be loving: patient and kind, not puffed up, not know-it-alls, always ready to listen, and always concerned about the people who struggle, always careful not to make things harder for anyone.
And if we do all that healing, loving work, we won’t really need to tell anyone that we follow Jesus, because we’ll be showing them. Maybe if we do it really well, people might ask us why we do it. And then we could tell them that it’s because we follow Jesus, and this is how we show it. And then maybe they would want to follow Jesus, too.