Gospel Mk 1:21-28
Then they came to Capernaum, and on the Sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.
In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit;
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!"
Jesus rebuked him and said, "Quiet! Come out of him!" The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him. All were amazed and asked one another, "What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him." His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.
I find this Gospel that we heard today intriguing. It opens up for us a whole new awareness of the boldness of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus goes to hallowed ground on a holy day. The synagogue and the Sabbath are crucial to the understanding of Judaism. In this place he confronts a whole attitude towards the sick and embattled and in a brief moment astonishes those who hear his words and witness his actions.
For the scribes, purity is a focal point of their teaching. Realistically it is an easy teaching for it is simply one of avoiding any thing that can contaminate you and make you impure. Holiness was measured by purity, so therefore avoiding anything impure somehow made you holy.
A man is in the synagogue and he is held captive by what is described as an unclean spirit. His presence amongst the gathering is dangerous and disturbing. Just being close to someone with such a condition makes one unclean and would contaminate the worship place. The unclean spirit is used to being left alone to stifle this man’s life. The unclean spirit works through fear to maximise his effect on the individual and the community. In the presence of Jesus, the spirit is fearful. It presents a strong case that it is Jesus who should be fearful. ‘What do you want with us?’, could mean ‘back off, you don’t really want to mess with us do you?’ The unclean spirit goes further – ‘You are the Holy One of God’. The Holy One definitely would not want to be defiled, so leave us be. Don’t come any further.
Jesus is bringing to humanity a new awareness of God and how God loves. John Shea in his book Eating with the Bridegroom, suggests that Jesus came to trespass on those areas of our life that we think light and love cannot penetrate. So the unclean spirit is ordered to leave the man. It leaves knowing that its grasp cannot be maintained in the presence of such loving power. The crowd are astonished and amazed. They recognise a new quality to the teaching that they have received and they acknowledge it as power and authority. Don’t be fearful but bring faith and love to those things that seem to overpower us.
What is Jesus saying to us in this Gospel? Around him he has gathered disciples and followers. His word has touched them and they willingly follow. But their attitudes have to change. Somehow they, and all of us, have to change our mind about God. God loves us. It is a difficult lesson to learn. And faith is not about fear, it is always about giving that love a primacy in our lives. The opposite of fear is love and with love is freedom.
Maybe in our prayer we can bring before the Lord all that we think separates us from him. Let us allow Jesus to speak to us in the silence of our hearts, to quieten and quash all that keeps us apart from him, from all that holds us bound up with fear, from all that we feel is unholy and impure. Let us allow Jesus to trespass on the unholy ground of our lives and bring his light and peace to us.