I am trying to imagine the scene before us now with Jesus fresh off his wilderness experience, still newly baptized by John, accompanied by a handful of his disciples, walking together into the synagogue in Capernaum today.
Of course we do not hear the content of Jesus’ teaching in Mark’s telling of the story. We only hear that he did. And that he made quite the impression, even before what happened next. And yet, in the end it was not only how he strung sentences together which left a lasting impression. No not even the timbre of his voice, the inflection of his words. Rather what came next is what must have left a truly indelible mark on all those who by chance or happenstance or long held habit found themselves there that day, not to mention the one whose whole life was changed from that moment forward.
And no, we do not hear what was the nature of the ‘unclean spirit’ which so clearly held this man in his grip. Only that it recognized Jesus. And that somehow it knew the adversarial power that Jesus held even before that power was fully demonstrated.
Now I do have to say that it seems significant to me that Jesus’ first words to that unclean spirit were “Be Silent.” For those two words put an end to its ability to tear down, to damage, to sap the life force of the one who had served as host for its parasitic power for likely far too long.
Be Silent. Stop. Stop Now.
Because words. Words all on their own as we already know and have even more reason to believe as a result of today’s encounter in the synagogue:
- Words tear down or they build up.
- They wound or they heal.
- They cast clouds of despair or they are the very light of hope for those who need it most of all.
Indeed, I imagine Jesus said this not only to stop the unclean spirit’s attack on him, but also to put an end to the ways its words were no doubt eating away at the life of the very one it inhabited.
Now I know it is awfully easy to regard the one so possessed today as ‘other.’ Or to quickly label this telling as an example of Jesus healing mental illness (which, yes, it may well have been) — as though that illness is something only experienced by others. I do wonder now, though, what it would be to put ourselves into the life experience of the one who was so in the grip of the power of that which possessed him. How might this change the power of this story as you and I hear it now?
- For who among us is not possessed by one ‘unclean spirit’ or another?
- Who among us does not have something which has shaped us or marked us or even crippled us which is contrary to what God intends for us?
Is your unclean spirit one of fear? I know that mine is at times.
Is yours marked by despair? And who hasn’t experienced our hope faltering in these last months — at least from time to time?
Or does your ‘unclean spirit’ look like this? Are you held captive by long ago experiences, lessons learned, perhaps long before you even knew you were learning them which are so much a part of how you are in the world that when something or someone (in this case, Jesus) pulls them out into the open, inviting you by his very presence into another way of being, you find everything within you resisting because you have known no other way?
Is your ‘unclean spirit’ brought to light in Jesus calling you to leave behind old ways of being which no longer serve you as they once did? Or serve the world well through you? Certainly all that has been so challenging in this past year has brought some of these to the surface for me. How about you?
For oh, I do believe that if I had been in that synagogue so long ago to hear Jesus teach and then to witness what came next I also would have been astounded, amazed, and unable to keep from wondering with others about what we had just heard and seen.
At the same time?
I expect I would have wondered what this astounding power might have meant for me. What it means for me, for you, for those we serve, for the communities we inhabit, for the nation, the world we call home… What would such freedom from all that has held us back, bound us up, sapped us of our energy and hope, be like, look like, feel like today?
I don’t know about you, but this last year with all of its challenges has made more apparent for me some ‘unclean spirits’ which perhaps have been there all along but were easier to ignore or to run from in another time and space and way of being…
Those that speak words about not having enough, doing enough, being enough…
Or that leave you feeling almost paralyzed by long buried griefs, never fully tended before…
Or ones which engender fear. Or doubt. Or skepticism.
If we did not know that at least at times something less than life giving sometimes has held us captive before, well, at least for me, it has become impossible to ignore in these last months, this last year…
And so I hear Jesus’ words today to ‘be silent!’ as ones of absolute grace and promise and healing now. Or at least the beginning of the healing which God intends for us all.
- For in that silence which follows, words which set free can finally be heard.
- In that silence, words which bring healing can now be received.
- Into that silence, we hear the promise that death, what had perhaps been a living death resulting in a crippled life, is now vanquished.
‘Even the unclean spirits…’ we hear today.
What a wondrous gift it is to hear the promise today as meant for all of us…
- How do you hear the story before us now? Where do you see yourself in it? Is it possible that you, too, might be the one ‘possessed’ by something which does not bring life? What would such healing as we witness today mean to you? How might it change everything?
- Why do you think Jesus’ first words to the unclean spirit were ‘Be silent!’?
- What echoes for you in the silence that follows? Is it a word of healing, of hope, of grace, of life?