Saturday, January 19, 2013


NOTE: I apologize for the lack of pictures. Something changed in my blogging program and I haven't figured it out yet. I hope to solve it soon! 


This past Tuesday the gospel reading posed one of those occasional challenges that went right to my heart. Let me share it with you and show you how it happened. It’s from the first chapter of Mark.

They 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.’

This sets the scene for what promises to be a classic exorcism, a mighty struggle between a demon and an exorcist. It starts out in the usual fashion, with the “word magic” phase: the demon calls the exorcist by name as a way of intimidating him. Often the demon will start calling out the secret sins of the exorcist in an attempt to drive him away. The people in the synagogue that day would have been settling in to their seats to watch the long drawn out battle between the demon and the young rabbi from Nazareth. It could take hours, but it was good entertainment.

Now after the demon’s initial sally the would-be exorcist would be expected to counter with a couple of moves of his own. Mark continues the account.

But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.

That was it. The exorcism was over just like that! The young rabbi simply scolded the evil spirit and told him to get out, and the spirit obeyed without another word. No pitched battle, no ebb and flow of a closely fought contest. Just a quick word from Jesus was all it took. The demon didn’t stand a chance. The reaction of the onlookers was predictable:

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.’


Early Tuesday morning as I meditated on this passage I was right there in that synagogue in Capernaum watching the action. Like the rest of the onlookers I sat there amazed at Jesus’ total power over the evil spirit and the effortless ease with which he just commanded it to depart

Paul says somewhere that everything in Scripture was written for our instruction. And sure enough, as I sat there no longer in the synagogue of Capernaum but in St. Mary’s church, Newark, the message hit me: Jesus is able to do the same thing to the “demons” in my heart if only I invite him and allow him to. The ancient monks in the desert of Egypt had lots of shrewd psychological and spiritual insights, often couched in the terminology of “demons,” the forces inside and outside of us that prevent us from being in union with God. “The demon of pride entered a monk,” or “the demon of jealousy overtook a monk,” or the demon of depression or of discouragement. But the lesson was invariably the same: the demons are powerless over us because of Christ’s victory. They come and try to disrupt our lives and discourage us, but if we call on Christ for help the demon doesn’t stand a chance and departs right away.
So, I thought to myself, when I’m assailed by discouragement or fear it seems to take me way too long to call on Jesus for help. But all I need to do is invite him into the little synagogue of my soul and let the demon try to fight him. It’s not hard to imagine Jesus’ commanding voice shouting ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’

My prayer that morning was that when I find myself assailed by troubles I’ll remember to swallow my pride and not try to handle it on my own, but rather call on Jesus to expel the demon from my heart the way he expelled the demon that day in the synagogue.

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