Jesus and his disciples 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, convulsing him 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. Mark 1:21-28.
In today’s Gospel reading, Mark reports that Jesus taught in the synagogue in Capernaum. Somehow, Jesus’ teaching wasn’t like the normal commentary to which the people had become accustomed. His words carried a power which they have not heard before, and they would soon discover the breadth of his authority. Jesus had a command of scripture which the people had not encountered before, but we also get the sense that it’s more than that. We have the impression that they encountered something in Jesus himself they hadn’t previously seen: a certain gravitas, a new mastery and might.
Suddenly, a man “with an unclean spirit” accosted Jesus. Interestingly, this unholy spirit spoke to Jesus in the plural. (The spirit asked “What have you to do with us?” and “Have you come to destroy us?”) Perhaps this daemon refered to both itself and the possessed man. Or perhaps evil is always multifaceted, or duplicitous by its very nature. The spirit then announced, “I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”
Further evidencing his authority, Jesus expels the spirit from the man, freeing him from a terrible torment and bondage. I suspect most of us have known someone in the grip of such an evil spirit, one which confines their souls and robs them of joy. We may have concluded, as Einstein famously remarked, “It’s easier to denature plutonium than to denature the evil spirit of man.” Those in the grip of such an evil spirit have no power within themselves to help themselves.
In a few short sentences, Mark has revealed several facets of Jesus: teacher; healer; liberator; and compassionate pastor. This revelation fits perfectly within our Epiphany theme. Through the act of freeing this man from the shackles of sin, Jesus restores God’s creation.
I don’t think Mark tells this story so much to describe an exorcism as to reveal the reach of Jesus’ authority, which includes the scriptures, the world of the flesh and the world of the spirit. In this passage, Mark thus reveals Jesus as Lord of all created things.
Ironically, Mark places some of the most important questions about and observations of Jesus within the mouth of this evil spirit. The unclean spirit asks, “What have you to do with us?” I am certain that I do not ask myself that question often enough. What does Jesus have to do with me, with this day, with this place and with this hour? In what way is Jesus relevant to this very moment of my life, and what am I going to do about that?
The unholy spirit also announces, “I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” I’m wondering how well we know who Jesus is, and do we recognize his authority? Do we recognize Jesus when we encounter him, and do we know his power? Are we willing to let him rid us of those spirits that would destroy us? Will we listen when he tells our demons to be silent and to depart? I pray we will.
© 2012 James R. Dennis