They went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and 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.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
One more thing on Jesus’ first public appearance and activity. We’ve already said that these early words and deeds of Jesus are important to pay attention to because they help flesh out what he means by “the kingdom of God.” But even if we’re paying close attention to what’s happening at this point of the story, we almost immediately run into a problem. And that’s with miracles – they don’t always fit into the way we look at and think about the world today, and that makes them hard to relate to. And in this first miracle of Jesus, it’s even worse: possession. I mean, who believes in possession any more.
Actually, I do. I have, that is, on occasion been possessed by anger at a colleague or family member that has led me to say and do things I regret. I have been possessed by jealousy and envy that had led me to use my resources in ways I regret. And that’s just the beginning. And can you honestly tell me that you haven’t had these experiences also, when you feel possessed by something that is so clearly not the Spirit of God blessing us to be a blessing to others?
And there are worse things to be possessed by as well. Think of what it’s like to be possessed by an addiction to alcohol, drugs, gambling, or pornography. Or how it feels to be possessed by prejudice. Or maybe it’s the kind of possession that isn’t quite as obvious, or that our culture actually approves of, like workaholism, affluenza, or greed. (Remember Gordon Gekko’s Wall Street speech that “greed is good” and the way that attitude more recently has both captured and ravaged our culture and economy?)
There are, I think, a lot of ways to be possessed. Is that what Mark describes in this story. I don’t know, but I do think we might be helped by shedding our Hollywood-fed images of demons causing us to vomit and spin our heads (Exorcist-style) and instead image that they represent those forces that are diametrically opposed to God’ will. Rather than bless, they curse; rather than build up, they tear down; rather than encourage, they disparage; rather than promote love, they sow hate; rather than draw us together, they seek to split us apart.
So maybe we could boil down this first miracle of Jesus this way: Jesus has been baptized, tempted in the wilderness, and now comes to proclaim and demonstrate the kingdom of God on earth, and he does this by opposing the forces of evil which would rob the children of God of all that God hopes and intends for them.
Yeah, told that way, that’s a story I can definitely relate to.
Prayer: Dear God, rescue us from the forces of evil and destruction that pervade our lives and use us as instruments of your blessing, healing, and peace. In Jesus’ name, Amen.