Today’s readings deal with God’s power and authority. The reading from the first Epistle to the people of Corinth is intriguing. Only God can fully know God, but I think this Epistle reminds us that we can know about God and see things as God sees them by the power of the Holy Spirit in us, by our life in Christ. Then the Psalm sings our praise of God – merciful God, glorious God, faithful God, and God lifting us up when weakness and sorrow bring us down.
The Gospel depicts one of a series of little scenes in the narrative of Jesus’s public life, in which Jesus is teacher, healer and prophet. Here he’s also exorcist, calling an “unclean demon” to come out of a man. Already astonished at how Jesus teaches with authority and wisdom, the people of Capernaum are amazed at his power and authority over evil spirits.
In today’s highly individualistic American culture, proud to assert our individual rights, we tend to some resistance to anybody else’s power and authority – but not when we need teaching and healing and rescue from evil. We want to believe in the power and authority of the teacher who plans the seminar, the police officer who locates and arrests the lawbreaker, or the dentist who judges whether drilling and filling is needed or – I hope! – not needed.
In our supposedly advanced, scientific and technological age, the idea of spirits – evil or otherwise – is often met with skepticism and disbelief. Yet our culture also likes the idea of “spirits” present among us, as shown by our various popular novels, movies, and television shows about those with the “sixth sense” to perceive and even interact with “spirits.” Somehow this culture still wants to believe in the possibility of a spiritual world beyond what we can count and measure and accumulate in the natural world. (Meanwhile, of course, Ignatian spirituality uses the term “discernment of spirits” for a systematic and faith-based method of knowing and understanding,“discerning,” what is going on in our hearts and what is God’s will for us.)
Today we might diagnose the man with “the spirit of an unclean demon” in him as mentally ill. Yet who among us has not seen or felt the power of an “evil spirit” in the hostility, errors, crimes and misbehaviors of quite sane people. Haven’t we all, reading a newspaper or hearing news on TV – or perhaps suffering as victims of malice – had thoughts like “What could have possessed him to take out his gun and fire it?” or “What possessed her when she wrote such a cruel letter?” or “What could have made them tell that lie?” And, sadly, I think most of us have had moments that make us wonder later, “WHAT POSSESSED ME that led to my making such a big deal of that?” or “making such a stupid mistake?” or “saying something so hurtful”? Maybe, indeed, we have been in the power of an evil spirit, an “unclean demon.”
Thus this Gospel asserts that God’s power and authority can rescue us from evil, even the evil in our own hearts. The demon’s testimony told the people Who Jesus was, and today it says again that Jesus is the “Holy One of God” – our Savior. Today, let me be amazed all over again by Jesus, and let me recognize and praise God’s power and authority in my own life.
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