Fourth Sunday Ordinary Time 2012 Gospel Reflections Unclean Spirits

Scripture readings for Sunday's Mass are here.

Lots to get your teeth into here................
  • Various reflections on all the readings from St Louis University Centre for Liturgy are here.

"Mark's story of Jesus' first experience in public ministry is a story about a new kind of authority and power -  used to liberate from the powers of evil rather than add to them through oppression or self-seeking manipulation."

This story is Jesus' first public demonstration of the power and authority of God's kingdom. The term "scribe" originally referred to people who copied the scriptures. Over time, the term came to refer to experts in the law, that is, lawyers. 
Scribes or lawyers were recognized as the authorized biblical scholars of the time. They impressed others with the profundity of their scholarship. It was their custom to bolster their authority by quoting famous rabbis.  
  • In contrast to the scribes, Jesus did not possess any officially sanctioned authority. He was "uneducated ", not having studied under a prominent rabbi. Unlike the scribes, he did not rely on quoting great rabbinic names as precedent for his teaching. Jesus' teaching spoke for itself. Williamson comments,
    "They [the scribes] taught with erudition, but Jesus taught with authority. Jesus interprets the Scripture as one who has the right to say what it means. His teaching has no need of external support, whether from Scriptures or elsewhere; his word is self-authenticating, not like that of the scribes."
    Clearly, Jesus was no ordinary rabbi. He did not depend on academic credentials or rabbinic precedent as his authority. He was a prophet directly commissioned by God to speak on God's behalf."

Sunday's Gospel Reading    Mark 1:21-28

They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 

Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and 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." 

But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!" 

And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 

They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, "What is this? A new teaching--with authority! 

He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him." 

At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee. -

James Tissot Man With Unclean Spirit

One of the striking things about this Gospel is that it is the "unclean spirit" who  recognizes who Jesus really is. 

This passage holds up a mirror to provide some disturbing facts on our own limitations and inadequacy; it acts as a sad and sober reflection for all of us who think we lead "good clean" lives and claim to know who Jesus is. 

It is also remarkable that a simple encounter and a rebuke from Jesus penetrates to the complete and deepest truth of the person, so often hidden inside and He sets them free. This week also celebrated the feast of St Paul and his Damascene road encounter with God and the transforming power of what that meant is still unfolding in our world today.

Unclean spirits conjure up all sorts of images and modern interpretations infer that the man in the gospel was an epileptic. 

But the story can also point to any facet of a person's spirit that is held captive and oppressed by any number of distressing negative forces. 

Ultimately, it is only God's power and authority that can seek us out and restore the  true nature that lies in the core of our hearts and that is one with the creator of all of us.

Nina Simone song describes the longing that goes with wanting to be free. 

(Her own sufferings from bipolar disorder make this an especially poignant song too.)

“Man is his own most vexing problem.” 

—Reinhold Niebuhr 

Usually when something is broken, its value declines or disappears altogether. 

Broken dishes, broken bottles, broken mirrors are generally scrapped. Even a crack in furniture or a tear in cloth greatly reduces its resale value.

But it isn’t that way in the spiritual realm. Throughout the gospels Jesus always puts a premium on broken people and heals them.

In the video below, Luka Bloom sings an understated but compelling cover version of U2's song BAD. 

There are many interpretations of this song: some think it is about heroin addiction; others prefer to leave it wide open. 

The words could fit any form of addiction and fit well with the Gospel idea of possession by "unclean spirits" that have the power to tear us apart.

I'm thinking of the "big players" like Greed, Envy, Lust, Anger, Jealousy, Coveting, Idolatry, and then there are the milder more banal type of mood changes that can afflict us:  the stubborn hissy fits that we throw at God when things don't work out the way we want them too,  the obsessional anxiety states, the hysteria we sometimes get ourselves fixed into over inconsequential problems that we pin on God.

Any of these could identify as states of being possessed by or in thrall to "unclean spirits."

If you twist and then turn away again
If you tear yourself in two again
If I could, you know I would If I could, I would
Let it go.

Surrender, Dislocate

If I could throw this lifeless lifeline to the wind
I'd leave this heart of clay.
See you walk, walk away Into the night 
And through the rain Into the half-light 
And through the flame

If I could through myself Set your spirit free
I'd lead your heart away.
See you walk, walk away Into the light
And through the day. 

So let it go and so to fade away
Let it go and so to fade away.

I'm wide awake I'm wide awake
I'm not sleeping 

If you should ask then maybe
They'd tell you what I would say
True colours fly in blue and black
Bruised silken sky and burning flag

Killers crash, collide in bloodshot eyes
If I could, you know I would If I could,
I would.

Let it go.

Surrender, Desperation, Dislocation
Separation, Condemnation, Revelation
In temptation, Isolation, Desolation.

Let it go
And so to fade away
Let it go 
And so to fade away.

I'm wide awake I'm wide awake
I'm not sleeping 
So let it go. Surrender.
Let it go
Let it go
I'm wide awake ...

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