“Then they came to Capernaum, and on the Sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes. 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 1:21-28)
From the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus revealed just who he really was by his words and actions. Here we see the very first indicators of his true identity in the Gospel of Mark and they are not subtle at all!
First, he reveals himself by his teaching. We do not know what he said on the occasion recorded here, but we do know how he said it: “with authority and not as the scribes”. It was customary in that day for those who taught to do so by reference to others: “The rabbis say…” or “Moses said…”. However, Jesus taught by saying, “You have heard it said…. But I say to you…”(See Matthew 7, emphasis mine). When he spoke it was on his own authority, placing himself even above Moses and the Torah. He spoke as only God had a right to do. No wonder “the people were astonished.”
Then, there is the casting out of the unclean spirit, right within the walls of the synagogue. To do so, Jesus offered no feverish incantations, only a simple word of rebuke: “Quiet! Come out of him!” The demon had no choice but to obey. Who has that kind of authority over demons but God alone? It is no wonder that “All were amazed.”
Today we may look a little askance at this story, and the many others like it in the gospels, thinking we have outgrown this primitive view of evil and demons. But perhaps we do so at our own peril, minimizing the depth and source of evil still abroad in our world. As Mary Healy said:
“Anyone tempted to dismiss accounts of demons as fables does not have to look far to see evidence of their influence today. Such phenomena as ‘racial cleansing’, group suicides , and the sexual abuse of children show a more than merely human malice at work, seeking to destroy the image of God in man.” (Healey, Mark p. 46)
St. Paul would more than agree: “For we are not contending against flesh and blood , but against principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12)
Nevertheless, the point of this passage is not whether we believe in demons or not; it is whether we believe in Jesus or not. It is interesting to note that, despite the obvious indications given by Jesus of his identity through his teachings and wonders, it was only the demons were able to fully see him for who He truly was (and is!). It would still be a while before even one of his disciples (Peter) makes his own declaration of Christ’s identity (see Mark 8).
Failure to truly “see” and “hear” is actually theme that runs throughout Mark’s gospel and the parable of the sower (ch. 4) gives us a several possible reasons why this might be the case– tribulation, delight in riches, desire for this world, etc. But may I suggest one common factor that seems to underlie many, if not all, of them? It is fear: fear that He is not who He is, or even that He is who He says He is and that He will take away everything good from us; fear that He won’t provide for our greatest needs or our deepest desires, or that he will provide for us, but it will end up being a cheap imitation of what we truly desire most. The list could go on.
What might you be afraid of? What keeps you from truly entrusting yourself to God?
We have often closed with a powerful quote from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Whether you are reading it for the first time or the hundredth time, I invite you to read it carefully and ask yourself where is Christ calling you to a deeper place of trust–not only in his his authority, but also in his power and desire to deliver you from the forces of darkness in your life that you might have life in abundance through him.
“Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? . . . No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life. Amen.”
Fred Durham is the President of Alighieri Press and serves as an author and speaker.
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