Dt 18:15-20; 1Cor 7:32-35; Mk 1:21-28
4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
If the majority of Catholic Bible scholars are correct, then the first of Jesus’ miracles to be recorded is an exorcism. (The reigning theory in Catholic Biblical scholarship for more than fifty years is that Mark was the first gospel to be written, somewhere between 65 and 70A.D.) At a the very beginning of his ministry, Mark reports, Jesus is confronted while teaching in the synagogue by “a man with an unclean spirit.” Without even breaking a sweat, Jesus silences the demon and sends it packing.
I imagine that, for most of us, these kinds of miracles are the hardest to wrap our minds around. Possession by demonic forces is not (I hope!) a part of our daily experience. Many people who read these stories wonder if we might not be looking at cases of undiagnosed mental illness, or perhaps neurological conditions unknown to the ancient world. (There’s another expulsion story, for example, in which the demon throws the man onto the ground, trembling uncontrollably – a description that sounds an awful lot like epilepsy.)
Such a modern evaluation might certainly apply in some cases – but it doesn’t explain the immediate and permanent relief the victim of demonic possessione experiences the moment he or she encounters Jesus. This is a very important part of the story to think about.
There is no “time delay” when Jesus comes to visit. The moment we allow Jesus to move more deeply into our lives and into our communities things begin to change irrevocably. And always towards greater and greater experiences of peace and joy and compassion.
Yet there is something deep within the human condition – and if you want to call it original sin, I won’t argue – that deeply resists Christ’s loving touch. We hesitate to change, are slow to trust even God, stubbornly cling to a former way of doing things and a lesser experience of life when the transformation is just at our fingertips. Often there is a voice within us that cries, in the same spirit that St. Augustine did when he prayed to be released from what he perceived to be an uncontrollable Lust – “Lord, make me chaste – but not yet!”
And so Jesus comes to us, again and again, with open arms and an open heart, inviting us, pleading with us, to place whatever “demons” might be tormenting us – be they the supernatural kind or, much more likely, the kind arising from the cracks of our fractured human nature – at his feet. And when we do, if we listen closely in prayer, we can hear the words that Jesus says to the demon tormenting the man in the synagogue – “Quiet! Come out of him !”
Jim Philipps (3rd millennium pilgrim)
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