January 31, 2021
Fr. Joseph Jacobi
Mark’s Gospel has just begun and already Jesus is facing resistance. Though the brothers Andrew and Simon, and the brothers James and John, are open to his call to follow him, there are others who resist. That resistance happens from the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry.
With today’s Gospel passage we are only 21 verses into Mark’s Gospel and right away there is a man with an unclean spirit who rises up to resist Jesus and his message. Where does this take place? In the synagogue. In a place of prayer, a place where Jesus is teaching about God’s word proclaimed in a holy place.
The resistance which Jesus faces from the beginning is only a prelude to the resistance he will encounter to His person and to His message from many others. The opposition which Jesus encounters from the start of his ministry will continue on a regular basis from a number of different groups and people.
As soon as Chapter 3 in Mark’s Gospel, the Pharisees and Herodians will start to plot his death. (3:6) The Gospel Jesus proclaims and the actions he takes threaten the religious and civil leaders of his day so much so that from early on in his ministry they plan to get rid of him. Later on in Chapter 3, as the religious scribes witness Jesus casting evil spirits out of people, they will make the claim that he is possessed by Beelezbul, the prince of devils. (3:22)
In the same chapter, some members of Jesus family, seeing the crowds surround him and seeking his help, so much so that he cannot even eat, come to take him home, claiming he is “out of his mind.” (3:20-21).
So it is not a surprise when Jesus faces opposition in his hometown of Nazareth (6 : 1-6), those who think they know him so well and think he is too “full of himself.” Their resistance to him and his message is so strong that he cannot even work a single miracle in his hometown.
This resistance comes from all places, even from the inner circle of his disciples, from one of those closest to him. When Jesus shares with his inner circle of followers that he is going up to Jerusalem to suffer and die, Peter, the leader, takes him aside and rebukes Jesus, almost as if he is saying that Jesus has an unclean spirit. Jesus’ words to Peter are some of his strongest in the Scriptures: “Get behind me, Satan.” (8:32-33)
What is important to note is that Jesus identifies the source of his opposition, that like the man in the synagogue Peter is being controlled by an unclean spirit. What Peter is thinking and saying is not from God, but from the evil spirit.
It is important to remember where Jesus encounters resistance from the very beginning— in a place of worship where the word of God is being proclaimed. It is important to remember when Jesus encounters resistance from the very beginning— on the sabbath day, the day set aside for worship. Therefore, that man being controlled by unclean spirits is US!
For all of us come to this place of prayer struggling in some way with “unclean” spirits. All of us, in one way or another, resist Jesus and his message of conversion. Each and every one of us have parts of our heart that are hardened that need be softened. “If today you hear his voice, harden not your heart.”
Every one of us has part of our heart that is hardened, telling Jesus: “I’m not going to let you in here.” For each of us in our own way resist Jesus’ command to love God with all we have and are and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
This unclean spirit manifests itself in many different ways, but most often in the lives of Christians it shows its face in the form of pride– pride in the sense that we give thanks to God that we are not like all those other people out there who are great sinners. We are so quick to judge and so quick to condemn.
Pride can also show itself in the refusal to forgive ourselves for the things we have done, that we still hang onto out of shame or guilt. The Lord is ready to forgive but we out of pride, thinking we should have been better, still hold onto the sin out of pride.
The unclean spirit shows its face in many different ways of selfishness. Selfishness manifests itself not only in self-centered actions but also in the attitude energizing those actions: “I will do what I want!” or “I will do my own thing,” forgetting that to do the will of God is where we experience the greatest freedom of all.
Each of us need Jesus to free us from these unclean spirits continue to control us and which prevent us from responding more fully to the love of God. For some that takes the shape of “unforgiveness.” Some need to be freed of “grudge-crete,” that hardening of the heart resulting from a pride-filled refusal to forgive. Only the jackhammer power of Jesus’ authority can free such a person from this malady.
Others knowingly choose sin, over and over again, even though they know this action is leading away from God. Only the authority of Jesus can free one from such an unclean spirit.
Others find themselves enslaved to the meanness of some social media and denigrate those who think differently from them.
For all of us there are parts of our hearts that are hardened of which we are not aware at all.
In this time of pandemic it so easy to listen to the evil spirit, to be tempted to despair, to hopelessness, to throw up our hands and say, “There is nothing I can do.” That is not the voice of God.
The voice of God which we hear through Jesus is always a voice of hope, calling us deeper and deeper to trust in his promises and in the power of his love. We have been so accustomed to listening to the voice of the evil spirit that we are not even aware we are walking in darkness.
So we come like that man in the synagogue, crying out in our aching need:
Come, Lord Jesus, shine the light of your love wherever there is darkness! Expose the darkness and expel it from me! Come with the fire of your love and purify me, melt what’s grown hard in my heart, and help me to love!
Jesus has the authority, the power to set us free if we but turn to Him in trust and hope.