The Danger of Mislabeling

April 7, 2022

The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon. Abraham died, and so did the prophets; yet you say, ‘Whoever keeps my word will never taste death.” —John 8:52
This week, the Gospel readings come from a long passage in John during which Jesus is talking circles around the Jewish authorities who are looking for reasons to kill him. They get lost in the semantics when he’s trying to communicate something deeper beneath the words. The problem is, they don’t want to hear it, or they aren’t willing to do the work to understand what he is getting at. It’s easier for them to claim Jesus is possessed by a demon than to have to re-work their worldview.
We do the same today when, for example, the educational system labels a child as a problem student rather than piecing together that the child is hyper-vigilant, fidgety, inattentive, and physically aggressive because he witnesses domestic violence at home or is abused himself. His behaviors don’t necessarily mean he needs to be medicated for ADHD but point out that he has been traumatized, and his body reacts predictably. His behavior begs for evidence that he is safe and loved. Sadly, most, if not all, adults will miss the meaning behind his behavior, and he’ll get labeled with some version of disability or mental illness. Like the Jewish leaders in Jesus’ time, we often react with judgment to people whose language or behavior we don’t understand. We don’t like feeling threatened by a different worldview, so it’s easier to scapegoat the person than to sit with the unknowing of what they might really be trying to say.
FOR REFLECTION: What groups of people does society write o# as “crazy” in one way or another? Is there any person or group of people in your life whom you label, dismiss, or ignore rather than trying to understand what is underneath their words or actions? Perhaps a neighbor from another country? Someone from a different political party? A troubled teen? The homeless people who sleep in front of the library?
TO PRAY: Jesus, sometimes it is hard to understand your teachings. Help me catch the meaning beneath your words rather than rationalizing my judgments.