How do you think it would have been to spend a day with Jesus? What might it have been like to be one of His closest followers; in his company 24/7? This first chapter in Mark’s gospel we get a little taste of the flavor of one such day. It’s a day in which Jesus’ power and authority are on full display.
Many times we tend to settle into the company of the humble, calm, peaceful Jesus. We shy away from the power and authority of Jesus. Except maybe when we’ve had a day of defeat and been at cross-purposes with the world. Then we take great hope and comfort in the power of Jesus. We identify with the sentiments of the “cursing” Psalms. We call on Jesus, on God, the Father, the Spirit whoever will listen to our pitiful story. We ask God to raise a hand and make the world stand still until we catch our breath.
Maybe you’ve seen the Advent Health Care cardiac ad or heard their slogan: “Your heart is the only muscle that never rests.” St. Augustine said: “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God.” So we try praying, we try quieting ourselves, slow breathing. But nothing’s working. Until we recall what Jesus said to the demon: “Be quiet!” “Come out!” Twice now this week we’ve heard Jesus issue this command: “Be quiet.” In the Gospel this morning (Saturday) it was “Quiet, be still!” in order to calm a storm. Now, here in this story from Mark, it’s “Quiet, come out!” to chase an unclean spirit and cure a young man besieged by demons that today might be labeled PSTD, Schizophrenia, Bipolar illness.
So who is this man with an unclean spirit who shows up in the synagogue today? He’s the one who opens the exchange with Jesus. He’s loud. He interrupts. He draws attention to himself. He seems to ask Jesus: “Are you trying to pick a fight?” There is an element of shock in the story. At the same time, it’s fascinating!
Like at a tennis match – attention pings back and forth from this outspoken fellow to Jesus. It’s like nothing these people have heard before. This Jesus has authority. His words make a difference. Even the man with an unclean spirit is shocked and intrigued by Jesus. “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?”
Apparently no one in town suspected that the young man had an evil spirit. Otherwise, they would have been shunning him. They wouldn’t have allowed him in their company, in the temple or anywhere near Jesus. And here he is in the synagogue – the place where Jews gathered each Sabbath day (Saturday) for worship and to hear the Word of God. As one who was known as a teacher, Jesus was given the chance to speak. It was quickly apparent He was no ordinary teacher. He proclaimed the kingdom of God, yes. He also called people to repent and believe. But Mark doesn’t mention that here. What captures our attention is the manner of Jesus’ teaching.
On this day, as Jesus begins speaking, a man with an unclean spirit (a demon) stands up and initiates a confrontation with Jesus. There are a couple of things to note about what this demon says and what that reveals. Those gathered around may have known Jesus as an inspiring teacher. But this wily demon knows His true identity. Do we know Jesus as intimately as this demon?
The demon recognizes and identifies Jesus as God in flesh (Holy One of God). Listen closely – it’s also clear that the demon recognizes Jesus as a threat – as the One who has the power to destroy the forces of evil. When Jesus speaks, the demon can only respond in one way – complete obedience.
When we are tempted, overwhelmed we must remember, God is in control. In the end God will make all things right. Those who were attentive that day in the synagogue saw Jesus’ power over the demon. Like the disciples in the storm, they heard the commanding voice of Jesus say: “Be Quiet!” And they were AMAZED. If they’d known the hymn, they’d have sung: “Amazing grace, how sweet the song…. ‘Twas grace that taught my heart; and grace my fears relieved. The Lord has promised good to me…. He will my portion be, as long as life endures.”
In your prayers kindly remember all those who suffer with COVID 19; those who have had family members died from this dread disease and the thousands of persons who are waiting anxiously for the opportunity to be vaccinated – a special prayer for those who do not the capacity to understand the reasons for restrictions (the intellectually limited, the mentally ill and folks who battle with dementia … ) AND soften the hearts of those who do not grasp the seriousness of the pandemic and the necessity for restrictions … and patience for all of us … As the Gospel reminds us: “God has the power” and rest assured God loves us and wants only our good.
~Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB, Prioress