"Soul" the latest movie from Disney has become a favorite in my house. It is a lovely story that explores existential questions like purpose and the meaning of life. I highly encourage people of all ages to watch it. Without giving any spoilers, I will share one thing about the movie that has stuck with me this week (though, there are many things about the movie that would be good fodder for a Pastor Connection even a Lenten study).
The movie defines a lost soul as a person who becomes so fixated on something that they are cut off from the the things that give life. What's interesting about this definition is that the issue or item of ultimate concern is not deemed as good or bad. It is merely that the fixation is all consuming. A person could become fixated about work, or self image, or money, or a hobby, or a certain drive, or a relationship. It's not the thing that causes someone to become lost. It's the fixation itself. The person becomes consumed, their life is disoriented, and then suddenly they don't have much of a life at all.
I couldn't help but think of this image when reading this Sunday's sermon text: Mark 1:21-28. It's Jesus' first act of public ministry according to the gospel of Mark, which is important. When we read each of the gospels, Jesus' first act of public ministry shares a bit of insight into that gospel writers' Christology.
For Mark, Jesus is first seen as an exorcist. I know...that is not necessarily the most comforting image. We are much more prone to accept Jesus as teacher, healer, shepherd, miracle worker, comforter, and friend. But in Mark, Jesus confronts a man with an unclean spirit in synagogue and commands that destructive force to leave. There is no denying it. Jesus is an exorcist.
Admittedly, this story can be hard for us to relate to. I for one, don't walk around expecting cosmic battles with unclean spirits being exorcized from my friends and family. I'm sure I'm not alone. So, many times this story is tamed with interpretations that explain away the "unclean spirit" as a mental health issue or disease like epilepsy.
But, there is danger in those explanations. First of all, they can do immense harm to those who are actually suffering from health issues, promising quick fixes with bad theology. Saying that the man in the synagogue was ill equates healing with measures of faithfulness and illness with measures of sin and evil. Yuck!
But second of all, and perhaps even more detrimental, interpretations that try to tame this story are prone to let us all off the hook. The truth is, we might actually know how it feels to be consumed by an "unclean spirit." Let me explain - in the Jewish understanding of purity laws, the term "uncleanliness" was assigned to anything that cut someone off from the promise of life. We may not see spirits or exorcisms, but we know what that feels like. To use the definition from the new movie I love, we know what it means to be consumed by a fixation, disoriented, and then lost.
In those situations, we need Jesus to come into our world with the power of God and shake us back into a new orientation. I think this is what Jesus was trying to do throughout his ministry with his message "The Kingdom of God has drawn near," which we read just last week. Jesus came into this world preaching a message of reorientation to the promises of love, hope, justice, and community. He continued to confront the forces that lead us astray to become lost souls and a lost world.
This Sunday's story is another picture of Jesus reorienting us. To those forces that consume us, Jesus say, "Be quiet! Come out!" Then, Jesus invites us to the promise of life and life abundant. He invites us to emerge from a lost soul to a person focused on the vision Jesus' promises for each of us and our world.
I'll end my note simply asking some questions for you to consider:
- What fixations do you have that cut you off from life?
- What destructive forces have seemed to consume you?
- What things are life giving that help you see Jesus a bit more clearly?
May God's Kingdom continue to guide each of us this week.