Trying to put a leash on God

The Bible says, "The people were delighted with Jesus, so they brought out a collar and a leash to put on him so he would belong to them." Okay, the Bible doesn't literally say that. But it's the picture the Scriptures paint. 

If we are honest, we try to do that very thing. Today's meditation on Scripture points out a dark trait we all share: we attempt to tame an untameable God.

I'll pick up the story in Luke 4, where Jesus has just left his hometown of Nazareth and come to the nearby town of Capernaum. He is just beginning his official ministry. To this point, he has been teaching in the synagogues around the area. He has not yet done a single miracle. He is attracting attention, but his ministry is about to blow up.

Jesus goes to Capernaum. The NIV translation says that Jesus teaches the people on the Sabbath (4:31) -- like it's a one-day thing. In Greek, the wording is "on the Sabbaths" -- plural. In other words, Jesus is there for weeks, teaching the people. They are very impressed at his teaching, because it comes with great authority.

Then one Sabbath, his ministry takes a sudden turn. Jesus casts a demon out of a man right in the middle of the synagogue service (4:35). There is a big commotion, and the people are beside themselves with amazement. I can imagine the reaction. Jesus is attracting an audience with his teaching, because it is unlike anyone else's. He makes things so simple, clear, and compelling. The Spirit of God moves on the people while he talks. But when he performs a miracle in front of everyone, the crowd freaks out. That's what we would all do.

After the synagogue service is over, Jesus goes to the house of Peter's mother-in-law. He heals her of a high fever. Then even while the sun is setting, people bring scores of sick folks to Jesus so he can heal them too. He heals the sick and casts out demons into the night. His former teaching ministry has become a full-blown scene.

Early the next morning, before anyone else is up, Jesus goes to a solitary place to pray. I am guessing he wants to talk to the Father about this sudden turn of events and what he should do about it.

And here is where the people bring out the leash to put on Jesus. 

At daybreak, they frantically search around for him. "He's not here! Where did he go?" They scour the town and the surrounding areas until they finally find him. The NIV says, "when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them" (4:42). The important Greek word is katecho. The people of Capernaum try to katecho Jesus. To katecho means to hold back, suppress, restrain, detain, or possess. Jesus replies that his mission is to preach the good news in other towns too. I believe that's part of what he has just been talking to the Father about.

Let's reflect on this. The people loved what Jesus was doing! No doubt they were glorifying God. Their response was to go and katecho Jesus -- to hold him back; to suppress him; to restrain him; to detain him; to possess him. They didn't understand his mission, which was to proclaim the kingdom in other places as well. Their worship turned into an attempt to control Jesus. But Jesus would not be controlled. 

We do the same thing with great regularity. When we see God move, we try to control him so he will do the same thing again. We set up classes and programs so we can possess God. We bring out the big collar and leash, and we try to fasten them around God's neck, as if he is a great giant who will now do mighty things for us. Our worship turns into control. The trouble is, God will not be controlled or possessed. Try as we might to tame him, he cannot be tamed. When we move to institutionalize him, he escapes to go work somewhere else.

One thing the story does not tell us is how the people in Capernaum felt after Jesus left. Did they think God had abandoned them? "He blessed us, and then he left. We have good reason to be angry with God." We are like that too. We heap our expectations on God, and then we fume at him when he doesn't meet them. We can't see the big picture, and we run everything through a "what has God done for me" filter. Again, it's a control issue. What happens is that through our efforts to control God, we actually become distanced from him and closed off from receiving his further movements. He may not do what we expect him to do. He might have bigger and better ideas.

This meditation on Scripture comes with a call to put the leash away. The story shows us that God will move where he wants to move. Our part is not to katecho him, but rather to see what he wants to do and invest ourselves in it. Here are some questions to ask in prayer today:
  • Jesus, where are you trying to move in my life? How can I give myself to what you are doing?
  • Jesus, where are you trying to move among my family, friends, workmates, and social circles? How can I join in?
  • Jesus, where are you trying to move in my community? How can I go with you?

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