Greetings, SBT Readers!
The world has changed and is changing and, whether we like it or not, a new world order is emerging that calls for trans-formation and spiritual evolution. We can either be part of the process, allowing ourselves to become a new creation, or we can remain in the past, unable to let go of the familiar habits, attitudes, and routines that formed our pre-COVID comfort zone. Just as the Hebrew people lamented the loss of the fleshpots of Egypt and railed at Moses for liberating them, so we, too, tend to hunger for our "old lives," becoming stuck in our attachment to a reality that no longer is.
Globally speaking, the pandemic has brought with it more than its share of misery; at the same time, however, it is teaching us patience, compassion, resilience, creativity, and gratitude. May each of us let go of all the negativity that possesses us, so that God can breathe new life into us, awakening us to new possibilities we can barely dream of!
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.”
Both the NAB and The Jerome Biblical Commentary suggest that the "unclean spirit" names Jesus as the "Holy One of God," not as a confession of faith but rather as an antidote to his power. In the ancient world, to know someone's name gave one authority over that person. To this day, Jews do not utter God's Name but instead use such terms as "Adonai," "Hashem," and "Elohim"; even when they refer to God in print, many Jews abbreviate the word as in the English "G-d," both as a sign of respect and to prevent the Name from being desecrated. This is very different from a Christian understanding of the Third Commandment which we tend to associate with uttering curses, or casual expressions such as OMG!
But back to the "unclean spirit." Whether this "being" is the personification of an illness such as epilepsy or whether it is a manifestation of evil, it is on the defensive. Having made its home in the possessed man, this "being" is comfortable until Jesus enters the synagogue. Jesus, in fact, arrives as a "disruptor" whose very presence threatens his adversary. The story of The Cure of a Demoniac pits Jesus against a demon, good against evil, the power of God against the power of sin. In the end, it is a single word that exorcises this adversary, delivering the possessed man from his affliction: "Quiet!" It should be noted that this single word also restores the sacred community so that prayer and learning can resume once more.
Many preachers will no doubt explain to their congregations that in the ancient world, any form of illness was considered diabolical in origin and that the afflicted man was sick rather than possessed. While this is certainly a possibility, in my work as a spiritual director, I have definitely encountered forces that I would describe as "evil"; I have also heard countless stories in which completely rational, educated people felt they were "under attack," especially when they felt called to make positive changes in their lives or in the world. Paradoxically, there seems to be a direct correlation between one's capacity for holiness and the severity of the “attack” that one experiences. The more someone is committed to a path of holiness, the more obstacles, setbacks, temptations, losses, and challenges seem to surface; Jesus himself models this phenomenon as not only do his opponents harass and hunt him down, but even his family and his disciples fail to understand his mission. Ultimately, of course, he is betrayed by Judas, denied by Peter, abandoned by his disciples, mocked and abused by the High Priest’s guards, tortured by Roman soldiers, and, finally, crucified. There is a price to be paid for sanctity which is precisely why some people run from it!
Today, whether we look at society or at the Church, we see chaos manifesting everywhere. Heinous crimes, hatred, violence, and corruption seem to proliferate on a daily basis, rendering us speechless. Worse still, despair and depression can set in, causing apathy, hopelessness, and even physical illness. But evil cannot survive in the presence of the Holy. The task of the spiritual seeker is to become whole and holy so that the Holy One can take up residence within us. For this to happen, however, we need to exorcise all the demonic energy that possesses us – anger, resentment, addictive tendencies, jealousy, lack of forgiveness, self-loathing, fear, narcissism … Only when we ourselves can say “Quiet!” to the voices and feelings that disturb us will we be able to “wage battle” with the negative forces outside us.