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.
In the Gospel for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mk. 1:21-28), Jesus is teaching in the synagogue when a man with an unclean spirit cries out, “What do you have to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? We know who you are, the Holy One of God.”
The unclean spirit is shocked. Since Jesus is the Holy One of God, he should avoid what is unholy. This is the traditional teaching. Stay away from unclean spirits. So the unclean spirit is incredulous when he senses a different strategy. “Have you come to destroy us?”
He expects Jesus to say, “I’ll have nothing to do with you.” But Jesus silences and banishes him. The people in the synagogue exclaim, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”
The new teaching is engagement and elimination, not avoidance.
“Unclean spirits” is not a current cultural category. So it is difficult to know what Jesus is facing. But his intent to free human beings from what afflicts and terrorizes them is clear. And the positive effects on the people who see this happen is liberating.
And it can be liberating for us also. We have knots of thought and feeling that interiorly paralyze us. We are afraid of what afflicts us and what we judge to be beyond our powers to alleviate. Our only strategy is to shrink.
But then we see someone who does not shrink, someone who confronts and exercises authority over the unholy to better people and situations. We realize there is another way to think and act. The interior knot of thought and feeling is untied. What previously held us in check has been released. We are free to think and act differently. We begin to experiment with exercising authority over what afflicts human beings.
Sometimes we just offer general help. Sometimes we provide specific resources. Sometimes we recruit support. Sometimes we walk alongside. Sometimes we just pray. Sometimes we pray in addition to other ways. We continually search out what to do next, bringing forward our courage and creativity.
We become committed to bettering afflicted people and situations. It is a mission built into our bones. We have authority. Jesus has showed us the way. We follow.
© John Shea