July 30, 2014
Dear brothers and sisters,
The good new comes to us today from Mark 1:23-28.
In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit; he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are — the Holy One of God!” Jesus rebuked him and said, “Quiet! Come out of him!” The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him. All were amazed and asked one another, “What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.” His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.
Mark wastes no time in getting into Jesus’ ministry of healing, just barely halfway through the first chapter.
The New Jerome Biblical Commentary notes that the man was “possessed by an evil force….The idea was that the man’s behavior was due to an outside force under the direction of Satan.” That doesn’t resonate with me unless Satan is a representation of my shadow self, the part of me that I want to disavow because I am ashamed or fearful.
The note in the New American Bible explains that this “unclean spirit” was “so called because of the spirit’s resistance to the holiness of God. The spirit knows and fears the power of Jesus to destroy his influence.” Unclean spirits take possession of me quite frequently, I’m afraid. I am often susceptible to the influence of the whole panoply of the deadly sins: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride. I know when I am in the shadow of these unclean spirits. They are times when I have turned away from Jesus or not invited him into my life. When I do, it is a kind of rebuke, disapproval of my choices. Jesus’ power overwhelms this shadow side of me — at least for a time. But the unclean spirits aren’t banished, they just hide waiting for an opportunity to assert themselves again in my weakness or my complacency. Maybe that’s why I haven’t experienced a convulsion or cried out loud as the unclean spirit is exorcised for good. It would be my own cry of dismay or grief that I would be giving up something that I have grown especially attached to like lust.
Francis Moloney in The Gospel of Mark writes, “In the ancient world, to call a person by name gave the one summoning a certain authority over the one summoned. The evil spirit possessing the man in the synagogue has put two names together: Jesus of Nazareth (his public name) and the Holy One of God (his true identity). In the cultural and religious world of the time, the evil spirit should have won the day, and the reader recognizes that truth. However, such cultural and religious absolutes do not apply to Jesus.” No wonder the onlookers were amazed. What they believed to be true was turned on its head. That’s what Jesus continued to do throughout his ministry — turning everything on its head, turning everything inside out, challenging Jews and Gentiles as well as religious and political authorities to re-imagine the kingdom of God.
Jesus was the word of God. Sometimes I ask myself if I really believe that. Moloney states, “The evil spirit cannot hope to survive in the presence of God’s kingship.” If I believe and trust in God’s love and his kingship, meaning his authority in my life, then I wouldn’t continue to harbor these unclean spirits. As the New Jerome Biblical Commentary reminds me, “The coming of God’s kingdom would spell the end of the demon’s power.
I struggle with accepting the fact of someone’s love for me — someone who speaks to me, writes to me, touches me; someone who is flesh and blood whom I can touch and hold and kiss. I need confirmation again and again. I’m the same way with God, but it’s even harder because He is spirit, not flesh and blood. That’s why it’s so important for me to spend time with Jesus in the gospels and in conversation because he is flesh and blood. Still, I need confirmation again and again and why I am drawn to the gospels every day. One day perhaps I will be willing to let Jesus exorcise my unclean spirits; one day when I am able to accept his love unquestioningly and enter into the kingdom of God, one day when I give him authority over my life and trust him. He seems to be incredibly patient drawing encouragement from my tiny and tentative steps forward. He keeps commanding to my unclean spirits, “Come out of him!” However, I have to be willing to renounce them fully and finally.
You often give voice to the same thoughts and feelings I have and, I suspect, that all of us have. Your reflections make me stop and ponder these points and also make me realize I’m not alone in thinking this way.