On a cold January day in 2007, a man wearing a t-shirt and a ball cap walked into a busy train station in Washington D.C., opened his violin case and began playing. Four minutes went by and finally one man realized there was a musician playing, so he slowed down for a moment to listen but then carried on. After about eight minutes, the violinist received his first dollar bill, tossed into his hat on the floor by a woman who never even looked in his direction. A man leaned against a wall to listen for a moment. Children would stop to listen, only to be quickly pulled away by their parents to keep a move on.
The man played six pieces of music by Bach for about 45 minutes and during that time a little over a thousand people walked by. Seven people stopped to listen. Twenty-seven people gave him money, totaling $32. When he stopped playing no one applauded, no one noticed. Just the sound of people in a hurry took over the train station atrium.
What no one in the train station knew that day was that the man playing was world-renowned violinist Joshua Bell, a child-prodigy who only three days earlier had played the same pieces of music for a sold-out show where the cheap tickets were $100 a seat. But this day, standing in a train station atrium in a t-shirt and ball cap, playing on a violin that was worth $3.5 million dollars, only seven people stopped to listen and twenty-seven people gave him a little more than a dollar. The other 970 people didn’t even notice him.
It was an experiment done by the Washington Post newspaper and this experiment begs the question: can we notice or recognize something beautiful if it is not in the places we expect it? Could we notice a beautiful painting that should be hanging in elaborate frame in a museum, but instead sits on the ground at a garage sale? Could we recognize beautiful music if it wasn’t on stage or coming through our ipods and radios?
One day, a man and his friends came into a town called Capernaum. They decided to go to church, and in fact this man got up in front of the church and began teaching the people there. No one really knew who he was but it says they were astounded by his teaching. But that was all. Just astounded. They liked it. It was nice. Different than what they usually heard and it was a nice change of pace, but nothing life changing. They were like those who gave $1 to the violinist. It was nice music, but not worth much of their time. But then suddenly, there is a commotion at the back of the church. A man had stood up in the aisle and was now mumbling something to himself. As he stumbled up to the front, what he was saying got louder…. “I recognize you…..I know who you are. You are the holy one of God. What do you have to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?”
Jesus had come to teach in this synagogue and no one recognized him. No one knew who he was. No one really stopped to take in what he was saying. No one except this man who was possessed by an unclean spirit. He was the only one who recognized Jesus. Immediately, Jesus speaks to the spirit, saying, “Be quiet and come out of him!” The man begins to painfully writhe and twist on the floor until the resistant and fighting unclean spirit released the strangle hold that it had had on this man’s life.
This story comes at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry. In fact, this is one of the first things that he is involved in. He is recognized by no one except the evil spirit in the room, which begs the question: will we recognize Jesus when he comes into our life? Do we recognize God in the world? Do we know how to recognize God in the world and in our lives, outside these walls? Or do we keep walking past God as if God is a street musician that no one really cares about?
Now it could be that perhaps there is good reason why we do not recognize God in the world – because it is risky. If we learn anything about the God revealed in Jesus in this text, it is that when we recognize Jesus, it agitates us. It disturbs us because it threatens our way of life. “What do you have to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?! Have you come to destroy us?”
And the answer…is yes. Jesus has come to destroy us…to take the evil in our life and tear it out. To destroy the part of us, that is, that has become possessed. Possessed by anger or bitterness. Or by addiction or apathy. Possessed by greed or jealousy.
Jesus has come to tear out, to expose that which possesses us. To say, “Come out with it!” Because Jesus knows that the way to destroy something is to expose the truth about it. Jesus comes to expose our fears. The fear that our money will run out and so we must hold on to it tighter than ever. The fear that “old age” equals “washed up and useless.” Jesus comes to expose our arrogance. The arrogance that we know who God loves and who God doesn’t love. The arrogance that America must always and forever be the most powerful nation in the world. Jesus comes to expose our rage. The rage that for some of us life isn’t what we thought or ever wanted it to be. The rage of being mistreated as a child. Jesus comes to expose that which possesses us. Because Jesus knows that it is only when you expose something that it can be healed. One of the first steps in addiction recovery is exposing, or admitting, the problem. “Hello, my name is so-and-so, and I am an alcoholic.” When Jesus comes into the life of one who is possessed by alcohol, it is through an intervention by loved ones who exposes the addiction. The voices cry out to the addiction, “Come out! Why are you doing this to yourself? Why are you drinking yourself to death?” And the temptation for many is to ignore such things. To not recognize Jesus in it. To walk on by as if it doesn’t exist. But if they can see it…if they can recognize it as God speaking to them, then healing just might begin.
A friend of a mine told me about a man in her church who works with students at the local school. This man also has an addiction. In counseling for his addiction, he was instructed to journal about it. And so he did. But even though he was seeking help, it wasn’t long until the school became aware of his addiction and he was asked to resign from his job. Everything started to spin. His world was turned upside down. The rumor-mill in town started churning; people started asking questions. His family got caught up in the mix of it all. It was incredibly disruptive and destructive for his life. And yet, at the same time, suddenly something started to change with this man. You could see it in his body. His shoulders started to come down and everything just seemed to relax. One day he said to my friend, “I feel like a heavy load has been taken off my back. I feel free and unburdened.” For this man, a part of him was dying. This man’s addiction was exposed and he recognized it as God in his life.
Do we know how to recognize God in our lives? Or do we keep our heads down, avoiding eye contact and walking past God like so many walked past that famous violinist? It’s risky to look for God in the world. It will likely expose something about yourself. But Jesus knows that it is only when you expose something that it, and you, can be truly healed. Amen.