Today’s Gospel continues our reading from Mark and describes what some believe was likely to have been a typical day in Jesus’ ministry.
Jesus and the disciples that chose to follow him in last week’s Gospel arrive at Capernaum, a small village on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus teaches in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Mark reports that the people respond to Jesus’ teaching with astonishment, noting Jesus’ authority and contrasting it with the scribes’. Early in Mark’s Gospel we already find evidence of the tension that will manifest itself fully in Jerusalem.
After Jesus’ preaching, an even more astonishing thing happens. A man possessed with an unclean spirit calls out to Jesus. As we see in this example and throughout Mark’s Gospel, the spirits and demons seem to know Jesus and are often fearful of him. In fact, they seem to understand Jesus’ identity better than his disciples. As we will read again and again in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus orders the spirit to be quiet and drives the unclean spirit out of the man. Jesus’ ability to heal those possessed by demons is an indication of his power over evil.
In the prescientific age of Jesus’ time, all illnesses were understood to be manifestations of evil and sinfulness. Possession by unclean spirits may have been a way to describe what we might call mental illness today. It may have even been a way of describing certain kinds of physical conditions. Jesus heals with unique authority and connects his healing activities with the words of his preaching. it is fascinating to see who does, exactly, proclaim Jesus as God’s Holy Son. The ones who make this “confession are an odd collection. As we have here in our lection, evil knows Jesus’ identity and is not shy at all about openly proclaiming him as the Son of God. And remember all those who come to Jesus for healing, receive the wholeness that only the Lord can provide?
The point that Mark is trying to make in this Gospel, is that the crowds see in Jesus’ cure of the possessed man further affirmation of his authority. Jesus’ power to heal gives greater credence to his teaching. Jesus impresses the crowds through his words, which are manifested with power in his deeds.
Mark’s Gospel tells us that because of the authority with which he healed, Jesus’ fame spread throughout all of Galilee. And After all, if the pitiful evil spirits can get it right about Jesus, well we are in so much better a place to know him and proclaim him.
The God who is our source and goal, and Jesus Christ who lived among us and prepares a place for us, are more interested in our sisters and our brothers than in legalistic principles. The message of Paul underscores Jesus’ message of love: our relationships are more important than our rules. Freedom is not a matter of our rights, but of our neighbour’s needs.
When Jesus casts out an unclean spirit in today’s gospel, he casts out that which separates a person from God, that which emphasises knowledge and principle. Be sure to notice how painful it is when the unclean spirit comes out of him!
Rules are easy. We know what they are and can dress accordingly, act accordingly, eat accordingly. Freedom, the freedom that Christ brings, the liberty born of God’s love for us, is a harder thing to live.
In a world of shallow communication, we are called to be people who witness to and speak the truth. In a world of shallow relationships, we are called to be a people who commit ourselves to building community and friendship. In a world of fear and hatred of those different from us we are called to be people who trust and risk. In a world that finds it hard to forgive we are called to be signs of God’s love and mercy. As we try to live this way we might not be noticed for the “mighty deeds” we do. And yet little by little our honesty, vulnerability, patience, and integrity might work to exorcise the evil power of superficiality, isolation, suspicion, and hatred that seems so pervasive in today’s world. Ordinary prophecy, but prophetic work indeed.