“Jesus and his disciples 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.”
-- Mark 1:21-28
In this first public act of ministry, just after the call of the disciples, Jesus turns on its head the notion, of what a teaching in the synagogue, entails. It is easy to think the teaching is just the act of him astounding the crowd with his wisdom. But the pacing of Mark forces us to look at the whole of this story as one. Jesus’ authority is not simply his ability to interpret the scriptures, but also the way he embodies his authority, so the demons recognize him and are forced to relinquish their power. When they are silenced, the man is returned to his community. His cries subside and the power of love triumphs over the unclean spirit.
It can be easy to feel a distance from these stories of demonic possession in the Bible. But anyone who has seen a loved one slipping away from dementia, watched a person in the grips of mental illness, or seen those on the margins of our society doesn’t need much of an imagination to find themself hoping that Jesus will enter in and cast out these powers that can overtake those we love. This teaching with authority must ultimately be a narrative that calls us to love in ways that go beyond mere knowledge, but force us to act in ways that are uncomfortable but necessary.
To act with the authority of Jesus, which is love, means looking for wholeness of relationship. It is not about always having the right answer, but rather looking for the response that expands the circle of God’s love. How often does Jesus answer a direct question about what is correct with a parable? Or an action? He doesn’t seem terribly interested in winning the debate.
The stories of those who are possessed in the Bible are ultimately stories of exclusion. People are in the grips of what separates them from community. And frankly, in our times, one of the most powerful demons in our midst is our need for certainty over relationships. Jesus invites us to a different kind of authority, and it begins with humility and a concern for others.
Peace, Beth +