Our gospel reading this Sunday is from the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark. Jesus has come from his baptism in the River Jordan; he’s gathered disciples and now he’s living at Peter’s house in Capernaum along the Sea of Galilee.He enters the synagogue in the town and amazes people with his teaching. They’ve never heard anyone like him.
But a man in the synagogue who has an unclean spirit challenges him. I’m not sure what an unclean spirit is. Certainly the man reacts violently to Jesus. Listen to him shouting 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!”
In other words: “Keep away from us; you’re only going to bring us trouble.” The man just wants to be left alone. Even if Jesus is from God, the man just wants to be left alone. “Get away from us!” he says.
That strong reaction was not limited to the synagogue in Capernaum. It continued as Jesus made his way to Jerusalem. Mark’s gospel insists that others rejected Jesus, sometimes strongly, sometimes by simply ignoring him, and he calls their rejection diabolic.
However wise his teaching, compassionate his healing, loving his words, some rejected Jesus in his lifetime. In the end, his enemies killed him.
We believe the gospel repeats itself, and so it’s repeated today as we relive and experience it. “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” Can we reject Jesus too?
Doesn’t he stand in our synagogue today, in signs and in faith?
Belief in Jesus Christ is at the heart of everything. “I believe in God, the Father Almighty…I believe in Jesus Christ…I believe in the Holy Spirit.” Believing means hearing Jesus, listening to him, offering ourselves to him, entering into friendship with him, hoping in his strength, waiting patiently to receive what he promises.
Belief is not something we do once; we believe day by day. We’re always dangerously close to losing sight of Jesus. “Leave us alone,” we say, “You want to destroy us.” How easily we prefer isolation to communion with the One God has sent.
Perhaps an unclean spirit is not rare at all. If it’s a spirit that’s cloudy and dark then, when it takes hold of you, you cannot see the Light at all.
Deliver us, Lord, from an unclean spirit.