The Man with an Unclean Spirit
21 They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 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.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He[a] commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
Several years ago, it actually seems like ages ago now…my family moved to Pasadena, CA where I finished my masters in divinity degree at Fuller Seminary. It was a great season of adventure and new experiences almost every week. I went to seminary a bit later in life so I had a young family. Yet, we all remember going to the beach most Sundays after church for picnics, hiking in the mountains surrounding Pasadena, weekend trips to Yosemite, Joshua Tree, San Luis Obispo, King’s Canyon, Mexico, and simply being in LA and experiencing the beauty of the diversity in thought and culture that is Fuller Seminary.
I’m not sure if I’ve shared this story before, but it fits with our discussion on “revelation”, or something being revealed to us and being astonished or overwhelmed.
I was in a seminary class one day. I got to class late, which is probably not a surprise to some (although I am much better these days!), so I had to sit in the back row of this class with a friend of mine Igors who was from Latvia. The desks in the back where not comfortable and had the small pull out desk spaces…too small for my laptop (this was before the ipad!). Igors was a good friend, we climbed Mt. Whitney together with some other friends. He had lived through Soviet rule in Latvia. This guy was not afraid.
Our class had a visiting professor from the UK. He was an accomplished scholar with a great wit about him. He had some great stories to share, and, on that day, he experienced another event that would make a great story.
As we were sitting in class, the room began to move, the windows behind our back row desks began to wobble in ways that they were not created to do…the frames around the window looked like they were turning into jello. Everyone in the class jumped underneath their desks, Igors and I jumped up, looked at each other, and realized that we had no cover…meanwhile our professor, with his British accent, yelled “earthquake” with a kind of question mark and ran out the door…
It was an earthquake, apparently a 5 or 6 point something, that lasted a few moments with it’s epicenter just a few miles away from Pasadena.
After it stopped, we joked a bit, looked around for damage, remarked about how LA really is prepared for this sort of thing, and we all left class as our professor decided to cancel it after he came back in the room. As I was walking home a few blocks away, I looked up in the mountains around me, and was overwhelmed with a sense that I had just experienced something that was overwhelming, that could bring down buildings and these mountains. I also thought about a revelation that overwhelmed me to the point of tears: God’s power, this supernatural “other” that causes things to grow, to create, and in the words of the psalmist, can cause mountains to tremble. When I got home, I found my family safe, but they too had some amazing stories to share…I’ll let you ask them about them!
Our gospel passage this am gives witness to a powerful God, to an experience that caused those witnessing it and experiencing it to tremble and marvel. There is a man who has been demon possessed, he is out of his wits. Some would say he had a mental illness and dismiss it as a possession, either way, he was not healthy and in need of healing.
In the book of Mark, the author has a theme of painting Scribes and Pharisees, those who were scholars and priests, as folks concerned with power. They had a system, a way of life, that they wanted to maintain. Any threat to the status quo, their transactional way of living that kept them at the top of the social structure, they would try to squash through all sorts of power plays, arguments, bullying, social threats, and even physical threats. They were afraid of Jesus. His presence and stance on loving others, especially those on the margins that the Scribes and Pharisees wanted to keep on the margins, threatened them. Jesus was bringing these “other” folks into the synagogues, inviting them to the parties that “they” all attended, including those who were hard to love. He was inviting folks to question, and even change, the system that was in place that prevented folks from experiencing growth.
The “people” in this passage, as it says in verse 22 were astounded by Jesus’ teaching. He had authority that the Scribes didn’t have. He had relationship and was practitioner of loving actions, where as the Scribes didn’t and were not. They were amazed, but they still don’t necessarily believe. Oftentimes we are amazed, but we still have disbelieve, we have to ask ourselves, are we looking to be amazed even today? Or do we want to keep the status quo, stay comfortable and in some sense of control?
If there’s one thing that this pandemic has taught us, it is that even when we think we are in control, things happen…and just like that earthquake, can shake us to our core. Something may even be revealed to us in a deep way. Do we have the courage to embrace this moment, or the revelation that God wants to give us?
Jesus also had power, power that can penetrate even the darkest places in our lives and in our world…power that even the demons recognized. Jesus calls out what this man is experiencing. The demon possessed man can’t hide, and neither can the demons. Jesus demonstrated a deep sense of who he was and is, rebukes the demons, silences them, and then banishes them from this man. Jesus has power over even the supernatural, things we don’t see or understand. Jesus is in effect making a statement, that he embodies the very power of God.
In those days, and we can relate to it today, folks who had diseases, were possessed with demons, had illness or some kind of physical issue were often labeled and stigmatized by others. They were to blame for their ailment somehow, or God was judging them. Folks on the margins were “unclean” and any proper, believing person would not come near them or it would make them unclean as well.
Yet, as it says elsewhere in Scripture, that was not the case, that Jesus was indignant towards systems that oppress and limit folks. Jesus came along and healed folks, and as demonstrated throughout scripture, restored folks into community, into relationship with others. Jesus does come near, does enter into the uncleanliness of our lives, and the opposite happens, through our relationship with God, we are made clean. Jesus says to us that God is more powerful than our circumstances, God wants to bring healing, restoration, and growth…oftentimes in ways that we can never truly understand.
Jesus heard this man’s cries, this man’s prayers. God also hears our cries and prayers and enters into our lives, is present, and wants to reveal to us a deeper power, more powerful than earthquakes even.
That power of God’s Presence that called me into being, that rescued/saved me through Jesus, and that sustains, carries, forgives me as I live this life God’s given me and that I have the privilege of sharing with you. Let us live in this revelation, as best as we can, during a pandemic and whatever else comes our way, knowing that God is with us, all of us!