Reflection for Sunday – January 28, 2024
Readings: Deuteronomy 18: 15-20; 1 Corinthians 7: 32-35; Mark 1: 21-28
Preacher: Sr. Joan Sobala
In the readings of the previous two Sundays, we heard stories of God calling people to follow, to listen, to act in certain ways.
Samuel brought his innocence to God. “Speak, Lord, for your servant listens.” John the Baptist pointed out Jesus to his young disciples and then watched them follow this new master. Jonah resisted serving God, but God was persistent. Jesus called Peter and Andrew, James and John. Together, they came.
Wonderful stories of call in which we can find our own stories—the ways God calls us to be disciples!
This week, no more stories of call. This week we find the challenge that comes to everyone who is called. The name of that challenge is the demon.
The historian Adolf Harnack once noted that, at the time of Jesus, the whole world was thought to be filled with demons. “Every phase and form of life was ruled by these evil spirits.” Archeological evidence supports the strength of this belief.
Our own society is divided about demons. On the one hand, the popularity of authors like Stephen King and films about the occult underscore our culture’s curious fascination with the demonic. On the other hand, many in our society dismiss demons as the stuff of fantasy.
But really, you and I experience the demonic in life. Anything that brings non-natural harm to ourselves or others, anything that seeks to destroy or obsess us, to overwhelm our peace of mind, our families, our relationships—these are manifestations of the demonic. The forces that possess groups of people, incapacitate their working for the good of all or distort their humanity are demonic.
The Synoptic Gospels tell of Jesus tempted by Satan before he began his public ministry. Satan did not prevail. But early in his public ministry, according to Mark, Jesus came face to face, not with a man seeking answers to life’s thorny questions, but with a man possessed by a demon, taken captive by a force outside of human control.
Jesus recognized the demon for what he was. He already had the experience of Satan. This demon was clever as Satan had been. The demon made the man cry out, “Jesus, You are the Holy One of God.” (Mark 1.24) But the Teacher would not accept this proclamation, this recognition from the demon. Apparent words of faith are not enough. Beyond the words, the demon was bent on destruction— the destruction of the man who hosted him and the destruction of Jesus.
“Be quiet!” Jesus commanded. “Come out of the man.” (Mark 1.25) The demon convulsed the man violently before leaving, but more importantly, the demon departed. Jesus restored the demon-held man to sanity and true humanity.
The demon had come face to face with the unique authority of Jesus. Jesus had no political, legal, vested power. He didn’t even have designated religious authority. The Scribes and the Pharisees had a corner on that. The only authority Jesus had came from his loving heart and welcoming ways, His oneness with His Father. People who accepted his authority did so because he treated them with honor and humility.
The authority of Jesus offered people alternatives to their lives, evoking a new consciousness in them. He helped them see that demons could be successfully challenged, that dominant oppressive cultures could be supplanted. Life could be different.
The man in today’s Gospel account, and others like him, who came to Jesus with their demons found themselves freed—and given new life.
I believe that the demonic today is as clever as ever, but not as easily identifiable as some preachers and media would have us believe. Rather, demons are in our world in the disordered appetites of addiction, avarice, and lust which masquerades as love. There is the demonic push for power that has little regard for human beings, the readiness to use physical, verbal, attitudinal violence toward one another, the need to possess more and more of the world’s goods.
Our world is less free of demons than we would like to think.
But while we may not realize it or allude to it, we share in the authority of Christ, given to us in Baptism. With the power of that authority, it’s up to us to confront the demons of our age and to help release the people who suffer from the ravages of demonic power.
Our reading from Genesis reminds us that, surely in life, good will be in conflict with evil. But even more surely, God is with us in our struggle.
Demons have never overcome our God.