Jesus came to Capernaum with his followers, and on the Sabbath he 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. (Mark 1:21-28)
Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. All those who listened to him, St. Mark tells us, were “astounded at his teaching, for he taught with authority and not like the scribes.” He then showed the tremendous power of his authoritative words by silencing and casting a demon out of a man.
So why is this unclean spirit in a synagogue? A synagogue was a holy place, a place where Jews gathered to study the law and to praise God. We have a holy place, a holy assembly, and a holy teaching. In the midst of all this goodness, a demon cries out, “What do you have to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” What is this spirit doing there? We can certainly presume that he did not come to listen to Jesus’ teaching.
I think that one of the possibilities as to “why” to you is that the Gospel situates the unclean spirit in the synagogue to teach us something about evil. Sometimes we think that evil can be limited to only certain places, that unclean spirits can be restricted to the graveyard, the deep woods, or where thieves gather. Sometimes we imagine that if we are very good people, if we love and act with justice, if we have faith in God, then we can keep evil away from where we are.
This Gospel warns us that such thinking is naïve. If an unclean spirit can shout out in a holy synagogue and in the presence of Jesus the Messiah, then evil can appear anywhere.
Evil in the form of sickness, anxiety, even in natural disasters seems to have the ability to move freely throughout the world. It attacks people indiscriminately: the rich and the poor, the moral and the immoral, those who believe in God and those who do not.
If we know that then perhaps there are two important truths flow from this insight. The first is this: When evil touches our lives, we should not automatically conclude that we have done something wrong. Evil has more access than we imagine . If you survey the people who were so tragically killed in the tsunami, you would find that many of them were wonderful people who prayed regularly. Evil moves around our world and has access to every person and place.
This leads to the second important truth: If evil has as such access to our lives, then our strategy cannot be how can I prevent evil from coming, but rather how do I deal with evil when it arrives? If we cannot keep evil away, then we must ask, “How can I confront it?”
Here is where faith is helpful. We believe in faith that we have access to the power of God, a power that is stronger than the power of evil. So, when evil touches our life, we can draw upon our faith in God and ask for God’s assistance. Faith allows us to have courage in the face of sickness, to have hope after divorce, to find strength even in failure and peace in the face of death.
The same Jesus who drove the demon out of the synagogue is our Lord. We can turn to him and ask for his strength as we face the demons in our lives.
Prayer of The Day
“Lord Jesus, your word is power and life. May I never doubt your love and mercy, and the power of your word that sets us free, and brings healing and restoration to body, mind, heart, and spirit.”
Before this man with an unclean spirit, Jesus’ authority was on perfect display. Jesus simply and commandingly ordered, “Quiet, Come out of him,” and the demon immediately obeyed. No wonder the crowds were amazed! Our modern conception of Jesus tends to focus on his mercy, his forgiveness, and his personal love for each of us. And, while these things are true, Jesus is also a God of infinite power and might. As creatures before our Creator, we owe him praise, humble adoration, and perfect obedience. “Yours, Lord, are greatness and might, majesty, victory, and splendor. For all in Heaven and on earth is yours; yours, Lord, is kingship; you are exalted as head over all” (1 Chronicles 29:11).