Mark’s story unfolds in a series of logical and natural steps. Jesus recognized in the emergence of John God’s call to action. He was baptized and received God’s seal of approval and God’s equipment for his task. He was tested by the devil and chose the method he would use and the way he would take. He chose his men that he might have a little circle of kindred spirits and that he might write his message upon them. And now he had to make a deliberate launching of his campaign. If someone had a message from God to give, the natural place to which they would turn would be the church where God’s people meet together. That is precisely what Jesus did. He began his campaign in the synagogue. He was known to be a man with a message; and for that very reason the synagogue of every community provided him with a pulpit from which to instruct and to appeal to people.
When Jesus did teach in the synagogue the whole method and atmosphere of his teaching was like a new revelation. He taught with personal authority. No Scribe ever gave a decision on his own. He would always begin, “There is a teaching that …” and would then quote all his authorities. If he made a statement he would buttress it with this, that and the next quotation from the great legal masters of the past. The last thing he ever gave was an independent judgment. Jesus was different! When he spoke, he spoke as if he needed no authority beyond himself. He spoke with independence. He cited no authorities and quoted no experts. He spoke with the finality of the voice of God. To the people it was like a breeze from heaven to hear someone speak like that. The terrific, positive certainty of Jesus was the very antithesis of the careful quotations of the Scribes. The note of personal authority rang out—and that is a note which captures the ear of everyone.
If Jesus’ words had amazed the people in the synagogue, his deeds left them thunderstruck. In the synagogue there was a man in the grip of an unclean spirit. He created a disturbance and Jesus healed him.
All through the gospels we keep meeting people who had unclean spirits and who were possessed by demons or devils. What lies behind this?
The Jews, and indeed the whole ancient world, believed strongly in demons and devils. The demons, according to Jewish belief, could eat and drink and beget children. They were terrifyingly numerous.
While we may think of such miracles as appropriate for a less sophisticated age, perhaps we should consider that there are still unclean spirits roaming our world. Unclean spirits that lessen human dignity and degrade the goodness of people created in the image and likeness of God.
There is the spirit of violence that surfaces in the guise of entertainment in the media and in video games and that desensitizes us to torture, sadism, abuse, and killing.
There is the spirit of greed and materialism that drives us to acquire more and more even at the cost of human relationships, family life, and our physical and spiritual well-being.
There is the spirit of narcissism and self-absorption that causes us to value people only to the extent they can do something for us. Those who can do nothing beneficial are simply objects to ignore or discard.
There is the spirit of cynicism and contempt that mocks religion, morality, and traditional values and replaces them with nothing that gives life direction, meaning and purpose. Everything good becomes a joke that leaves only meaninglessness when the laughter stops.
Such unclean spirits need to be confronted with the power and authority of Jesus Christ. He is the one who can drive them out.
This power and authority of Jesus are present in the words of scripture that dispel the darkness and lies that parade as truth in our day; in the example of Jesus who shows us that true freedom and meaning are found in living for God and for others; in the Sacrament of Reconciliation that frees us from our past and allows us to begin again; in the community of the Church that supports us in our struggle against evil; in the consecrated bread and wine of the Eucharist that gives us the strength to walk the way that leads to a better life today and eternal life tomorrow.
The first miracle recorded by Mark is a miracle we need in our day, for unclean spirits are still seeking to possess the human heart!
Jesus is the prophet foretold by Moses in today’s First Reading. Though He has authority over heaven and earth, He becomes one of our own kinsmen.
He comes to rebuke the forces of evil and chaos – not only in the world, but in our lives. He wants to make us holy in body and spirit, as Paul says in today’s Epistle.
In this liturgy, we hear His voice and “see” His works, as we sing in today’s Psalm. And as Moses tells us today, we should listen to Him.