As One Possessed: Recognizing Jesus

Mark 1:21-28

Very often when we listen to a story like the one before us now, we find ourselves wondering who we would have been within it had we been there.  At least that’s what I find myself doing today as I imagine the events relayed in Mark’s Gospel:

  • Would I be among the crowd — those so astounded by what they have heard and seen — that I could not help but join in as they spread the news?

  • Would I be among the scribes  — accustomed to and pretty good at talking about holy things — but suddenly thrust aside by this new one who ‘speaks with authority?

  • Or am I most like the man with the unclean spirit — the one who calls out Jesus for who he is — and in that calling out demonstrates how profoundly threatened I am by this one who would ‘destroy me’ and so much of what I have come to at least take for granted if not actually count on?
Oh yes, surely, I can see myself in all three. 
Or at least I hope I still have the capacity to be ‘astounded’ by the amazing gifts of God.
And if I am, in fact, one of the scribes, I hope I have the grace to step aside and turn to the one with true authority, although honestly, I’m not entirely sure.
And as for the one with the unclean spirit?  The one who would rather hang on to illness than embrace the new life Jesus promises?  This broken  human being who is so possessed by the struggle that while he does not come seeking healing, he receives it anyway?  Do you suppose that could be me most of all?
At least that’s where I have found myself settling in these last days.
Oh, it makes sense to understand this one as suffering from some kind of severe mental illness and I am grateful to say this has not been my own particular journey. Even so.  I have known myself to be ‘possessed’ by things which are less than God’s intent for me. I cling to them for I know them.  And even when I know they are not good for me?  Oh yes, too much I cling to them still:

  • My reliance on caffeine or sugar to give me a lift when I need them;
  • A need to be in control;
  • A fear of looking foolish;
  • A need to be busy so as to be deemed of value;
  • Or old grudges which still sting when I turn my attention to them.

Need I go on?

While all of the above are true, I do have to say that the last one I name is what keeps coming to mind.  For you see, more than once in my life I have been party to conflict where in its wake I was unwilling to let it go.  I would continue to poke at the bruise to help me remember the injustice I experienced.  I would keep looking for evidence to confirm my negative opinion of the offending party.  Oh yes, I would, in fact, take some measure of satisfaction in my honestly earned anger or resentment.  After a time I would no longer always be able to remember what had hurt me in the first place, but I knew I had been wounded and I was not quick to move on.  Oh yes, I was, in fact, ‘possessed.’

Perhaps I clung to those long held grudges because they were familiar.  Or maybe because I felt somehow that I ‘looked better’ in comparison to the other as I told the story again. Or maybe because letting them go would have meant letting go of part of what I had become. No, I am not ‘possessed’ by an unclean spirit, but I have known myself to be possessed by a great deal which would keep me from embracing all God intends for me.

It is so that this story is mostly about the ‘authority of Jesus.’  It is about recognizing Jesus as one of authenticity and power.  And surely the one possessed knew this most of all, for he is the one in the story who articulates his fear that an encounter with Jesus changes everything that ever was and ever will be.  He knows who Jesus is and he knows what this means.

So while I am glad I am not him, I hope that in some ways I am exactly like him. That I can still be awakened to the power of Jesus and all it means for me.  And for starters, today at least I think of this in terms of how I let go of old hurts. And how an encounter with Jesus means embracing another way than what I have known.   How about you?

  • Where do you see yourself in this story? Who are you most like?  Who do you want to be most like?
  • How do you think the one possessed knew that Jesus had such authority?
  • It’s not the same of course, but what ‘possesses’ you which keeps you from embracing all that God intends for you?  How does encountering Jesus change that?

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