Luke 11:14-23: Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters
I was once meditating late one evening at the beginning of a retreat. I had arrived that day after a long flight; and the flesh was weak. I knew I didnâ€™t nod off to the extent of falling off the chair but my drowsiness made my earlier remarks about sitting upright and alert sound a little lacking in authority. The next day one of the retreatants asked me if I used a special sitting technique during meditation. I said â€˜no, why do you ask?â€™ â€˜Itâ€™s just that I was watching you,â€™ he repliedâ€™ during the meditation last night and you were rocking to and fro. I saw some Jewish scholars reading scripture like that once and I just wondered.â€™ My reputation was saved.
â€œAre you with me?â€ Itâ€™s a question we might ask someone or a group we are talking to, to make sure they havenâ€™t gone off to sleep while we were talking to them. Or, at a critical moment in negotiations when we need to know who is on our side and who isnâ€™t. Or to a companion during a dark and dangerous walk along a cliff-edge to reassure ourselves they havenâ€™t fallen off.
I donâ€™t think Jesus means any of these by â€˜with meâ€™. We might still be â€˜with himâ€™ even if we had fallen off to sleep or feeling isolated in a hard place. He himself felt abandoned but not disconnected from his Father at the end of his life â€“ a strange and perhaps unique experience of communion and separation.
In this saying, however, I think he means a deeper knowledge than is provided by evidence-based research â€“ what we can see or deduce. Itâ€™s the knowledge that is knowing not the knowledge stored in memory. The opposite of it is not ignorance in the usual sense of not knowing something but â€˜scatteringâ€™. To be scattered is to have our sense of self-diluted by distraction, over-extended by stimulation or fragmented in a myriad lines of fantasy. It is a state in which we can say or do nothing useful and in which we may be dangerous if we can pretend to be there and with it. There are people in marriages and monks in monasteries who have slipped into this state and keep up appearances but are not really there any more. Where they actually are is a mystery especially to themselves.
This gospel is about healing the demon of muteness, allowing the person to speak, to communicate again. Some people watching whispered Jesus was using demonic powers to cast out the demon, the incongruity of which he pointed out. These were the people who were not with him because they werenâ€™t anywhere that matters.
Much worse than a meditator nodding off.