GOSPEL Mark 1:21-28
Forces that would bring death and disease have taken hold of a man, yet they recognize Jesus and know what his power means for them. Jesus commands these forces to leave and people are amazed at his authority.
21[Jesus and his disciples] went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught.22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24and 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.” 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
“Just then, there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit.”
This is not the only story of unclean spirits and possession in the New Testament – but the others I can think of involve a man who lives in the cemetery, chains cannot hold him. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus goes to the land of the Gerasenes and meets a man who is also wondering this same question.
“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.”
But this is not a random stranger in the shadows of tombs – this is a member of the synagogue. Family. Friend. He’s not just some guy that runs in off the street, he’s a family member and friend – who is moved to challenge Jesus’ authority. But, while others were full of questions about Jesus, this evil spirit was the only one who recognized who he actually was.
So, this unclean spirit was among them the whole time, was one of them, but just then, just at the right time – opposed the teaching and the authority and tried to start something with Jesus. And what is Jesus’ response? He could respond in any number of ways. Does he kick the man out, does he preach it out of him? Does he get upset and all worked up at the fact that there is now an UNCLEAN SPIRIT in the CLEAN synagogue? No. He could also let the man just have his say. He could sit and listen, compromise, and try to make everyone happy, so as not to appear biased against this man. But Jesus does none of those things and barely addresses the man himself but addresses the spirit possessing this man.
25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” Jesus says the word and generally things happen. Jesus calmly and assertively tells the unclean spirit where to go, acting with authority.
It makes me think about authority – and where we look for authority. Is authority given to who yells the loudest? Is that how you get to be in charge and respected? Unfortunately, that’s the way it turns out sometimes, when the squeaky wheel is always getting grease, they’re always getting people to listen to them too. Words have power – to bless and to curse. Those loud voices and squeaky wheels are sometimes just speaking for the sake of being heard. But that’s not authority, that’s just volume. And I’ve been shouted at enough by folks who believe in their own authority to know what that sounds like.
Jesus calmly says no to the man with the unclean spirit, he doesn’t try to talk him down, he doesn’t try to reason with him or let him have his say. Because the words that would come out would diminish those who hear them and disrupt community. “Be silent, and come out of him” You don’t have to listen to those voices that you know are not of God – you don’t have to let them say their piece. But you also don’t have to fight them, you don’t have to reason with them or argue with them. Because your God is more powerful than them, so they have no power over you.
Words spoken in the name of God, have power and can, like the words of Jesus, “cause things to happen,” When I preach, when I pray, I expect things to happen, and usually things I have no control over. This isn’t just a lecture series, this is the Word of God – and Word gets right to work on our spirits – freeing us from what would hold us back, from the forces that pull us and push us away from God’s will. And giving us a word – and a hope – and the power – to speak out against those things and cast them out.
What are the things in your life that curse you rather than bless you? What are the things around you that are tearing down community rather than building up? Are there people in your life that are not encouraging but disparaging? What are the voices within you that are telling you these things? What are they saying to you? The voice that says you are not good enough and the voice that says you don’t deserve it – are voices diametrically opposed to God’s mercy and grace, telling you that you are a beloved child.
Back to the question the man asks. “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth”. This is somewhat of an idiom of the time – in the Greek literally “What to us and to you?” Meaning somewhere along the lines between “what do we have in common” “What’s between us?” “ And what do you have to do with me?”
Now we might say – Jesus and this unclean spirit have nothing in common – and are diametrically opposed to one another – competing forces if you will. As if the holy spirit and the unclean spirits have arm wrestling matches. But this is simply not the case. We do not have a theology of dualism. Evil does not have the same power that God has. It is not a fair fight – nor a competition. This is not to say evil is not real. But power belong to God alone.
“What have you to do with us?” he asks – and it’s not a far-off question. Many in our own time think that if there is a God, he probably wants nothing to do with them. That somehow, they are so far beyond help, that God would put them on the opposite side. Like we’re opposites. Like its us verse God. That’s a bold suggestion. Like we’re equals. Kinda like those folks who believe lightning will strike if they darken the door of a church.
What have you to do with us, God? The matter between us is our identity as God’s beloved children and our freedom in the Gospel. Destruction is not on the agenda, but salvation, making whole and making well. Jesus comes to oppose all forces of evil that would rob God’s children of all that God intends for them. His words have power, and that power belongs to God alone.
Pastor Erin Evans