Our ancestors in the faith believed that spirits were more powerful than human beings but less powerful than God. — John Pilch
- When we read this part of the Gospel of Mark we see it as a miraculous faith healing and begin to wonder why these type of things no longer happen. In turn then, we struggle to explain why it is no longer happening, this faith healing thing. Yes, I know, there is Benny Hinn, but he is booked into auditoriums, not scheduled at cancer wards. We also ask if we are either insufficient as church because we can no longer do this type of thing or we have an explanation why miracles have ceased. The former can be seen in quotes like this “If people can’t be healed today then people can’t be saved today.” Jerry Savelle, also booked into auditoriums, not hospitals, said that one.
- Many of us mainline people would quickly point out that we do still heal. We merely chose to express it through the daily ministry of doctors and nurses. We all see the man possessed as a sick man whose “possession” has a perfectly rational explanation that Jesus healed. On the other end of the spectrum, some might say that the man was not sick at all. He was merely objecting to Jesus as a teacher in his synagogue and Jesus shut him up by superior teaching that had power. It is hard to argue with the presence of a great preacher that has somehow touched and enlightened everyone else in the room.
- So what do we do with this episode today, ever so many years after in such a different land? Many spirits contend for our allegiance even today. Let us for a while move away from the guy being “sick” sick or “insane” sick or even “possessed” sick. Let us entertain that he is merely of a spirit opposed to God and the Gospel. That would make him by definition an “evil” spirit. But even less than that, maybe he is of spirit that is merely bored, unconcerned, uninvolved, uncaring, uninterested, the picture of apathy toward the God of heaven and earth in human flesh. That would count as “evil” as well if he is indeed willing to shriek about his distance from God and invite others to it. In a way he is saying: “What does it matter? What has God done for us lately? It don’t work for me, it won’t work for you.” He would be a picture of no-faith. Maybe he is a spirit that is clouded and asleep like the more typical C and E church attender.
- Why would it make sense to look at it this way, from a technical standpoint? The possessed one is in a synagogue, a place that is to be full of the word of God and therefore the Spirit of God. Yet, there he is, full of a spirit that that is contrary to what the faith the synagogue stands for and that needs driving out. This interaction is supposed to happen there. It is meant to be going on. The place is meant to be doing it. Leaving aside speculation on why the place has not been able to get it done, it is clear that Jesus by his presence and authority can, does, and will do so. Maybe an organization that hopes to be the continued presence of Jesus needs to be radical enough to be able to do likewise.
- On the level of the individual, maybe we can compare this to the parable of the seeds of Mark 4. Since we are speaking of spirits maybe the healing here is about healing the faith of the man, birds, scorching sun, and weeds having taken their toll on him. It is not easy to be challenged as being one whose heart has not been “good soil.” Yes, there is a song — let us not call it a hymn — that begs that our heart be good soil. I am thinking that song misses the simple fact that the birds don’t care that the path wants to be field. It also tragically overlooks the fact that the weeds love good soil just as much as the grain. By their growth rates versus that of wheat maybe the weeds show they love it more and know better how to use it. Speaking as a contemplative, if the path can ask to be field then it already has faith, it is merely in a state of desolation right now. When the path does not care that nothing will grow on it then it is in unfaith. Unclean spirit does then apply.
- The man, really the spirit within the man, may just be in that latter state. Somehow Jesus’ presence has set him off. He is angry enough to challenge Jesus: “What do you want from me? Why do you interrupt my comfort? I have life worked out without the Kingdom of God in my world. You are challenging me and I hate it.” John would say: “He came to his own and his own did not receive him.” Mark writes: “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.” It is the same sentiment.
- To be in the synagogue in that spirit must have required a large number of compromises, by man and synagogue, and God don’t do compromise. Jesus’ presence seems to make that clear both in John and in Mark. In the places that do preach the Good News of the Kingdom, there is to be no compromise in Faith. Will he destroy now that he is here? That is a question that hangs in the air unanswered. If you know that you are standing in front of God the Son and you are saying: “mind your own business,” then the answer might be harsh. Unfaith is like a path that does not desire to be converted into field. It does not want to be plowed. To be field it will be plowed and that will destroy it as a path. Hard clay will break in the hand of the potter and good for it that it does. Sometimes destruction is the Good News. That is a hard saying but any path that longs to be a field longs for its destruction. Any heart that longs for God is like that path. God’s claiming it will break and rebuild it in due time and broke this man’s world, faith, and heart as well, only to mold it aright. Resurrections require a death, there is no way of getting around it.