Authority and Evil
Week of Sunday February1
Lectionary Reading: Mark 1:21-28
They went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and 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." But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!" And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They 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." At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
He taught with authority-not as the scribes. It sounds like a person who was believable, who spoke out of personal experience, rather than quoting a host of authorities they have read. Some theology seems to be a list of what other people have said. It is dry and lifeless repetition of the tradition, with no new words of insight. Other theology is grounded in the experience of the author, and reflects that wisdom.
Some people speak out of an apparent innate authority; others merely parrot. Some seek to manipulate and blackmail our emotions. From others come words that lift our spirits, and which are heavy with integrity. This is the kind of speaker I imagine Mark's Jesus to be.
The story shows Jesus' power... even the evil spirits obey him, and the people are suitably impressed. It was de rigueur that a heroic figure could drive out evil spirits. There is more to this: authority provokes a response. Those who speak without authority merely bore us. So in the story there were those whose hearts sang in response to Jesus, and in one man, the outrage of the unclean spirit.
We tend to ridicule the idea of unclean spirits, but this is a true story. We may not name illness in the same way, but evil is still among us.
When Brother Roger of Taize isstruck down by a disturbed woman in the midst of worship, we shrink from the true phrase ''unclean spirit." When Romero ismachine gunned to death as he says the Mass, we do not wish to say "evil spirits captured the heats of those men.'' Yet surely it was so, even if we can also use the language of political assassination. That language is helpful, perhaps, but loses sight of the evil done there.
Authority provokes a response. If we live the gospel, and if it is true that Jesus is ''the pioneer of our faith" (Hebrews)... we can expect the gospel to provoke a response from evil. This is to be expected. Everything we have seen in these first verses in Mark points to a message setting itself against Jerusalem, against "the powers that be," and against the System. I do not advocate we abandon the insights of political theory or of psychology, and see a demon behind every tree. That is to avoid the power and richness of today's insights. But we are fools if we ignore the richness of our own faith, and do not call evil by its own name. Perhaps the greatest power we have in the face of evil is to name it for what it is.
It is worth noting that the first place Jesus meets the unclean spirits is in the synagogue. This is not anti-semitism- it is saying the first place he met unclean spirits is in church! Why be surprised? People seek healing. We are all wounded and touched by ''uncleanliness:' Only a matter of degree separates us from each other, and the most wounded.
Andrew Prior (Adapted from One Man's Web)
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