[The lessons are here]
Every Sunday, it is the responsibility of the priest to offer the Mass for his people. People who come burdened, people who come wounded, people who come longing for hope, people in need. In the Mass we find the greatest central act of Sacrifice. And it is God who acts as He invites us to quietly listen, and to bring before the feet of Jesus, all our burdens, all our wounds, all our hopes, and all our needs.
For it is in the Person of Jesus that we find wholeness and healing.
In the Gospel today, we find Him teaching in the synagogue of Capernaum. Nestled along the north-western shore of the Sea of Galilee, Capernaum during the time was a prosperous fishing village, the commercial and social hub of the area. It lay on a trading highway that ran from the Mediterranean in south all the way through to Damascus and beyond in the north. And it is the place that Jesus chose to make His headquarters after leaving His home town of Nazareth, taking up residence in the home of St Peter. The archaeological remains of that home can be seen still today.
The Bible recalls that, ‘Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee’ – (Mark 1:23-28)
Jesus, teaching, is interrupted. A man with an ‘impure spirit’ who is in the synagogue starts screaming and his voice is directed towards Jesus. Now I wonder, how would we react if that was to happen today, here in Church? For one, we would probably have the sidesman springing into action and removing the lunatic from the Church. He is exactly the sort of bloke most of us would avoid: Dirty, out of his mind, and bothering everyone who gets a little too close; living on the margins of sanity and living on the margins of society. But even in his demonic madness, he knows exactly who and what Jesus is: ‘Jesus of Nazareth’, ‘the Holy One of God’.
The pericope of the Gospel lesson is: ‘Jesus teaches with authority’. And it is His power over demons that serves to reinforce that, His authority. ‘“Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. The people were all so amazed…’
Now I realise that a lot of people today would look at this account and endeavour to dismiss the demon-possession as a primitive way of describing what we might call a psychiatric illness, or a mental disorder of some kind. In other words, the ancients never really knew enough about medicine to make a positive diagnosis of a mental or psychological disturbance, and instead attributed such disorders to the realm of evil spiritual influence or demon possession. Advocates of such a position are therefore quick to ‘demythologise’ the Biblical accounts of demon possession. The problem with this kind of thinking is Jesus, being who He is, the Holy Son of God, was not limited by a lack of scientific knowledge or understanding. He knew exactly who and what He was dealing with, just as the demons clearly knew exactly who they were dealing with, and exorcism was manifestly a part of Jesus’ salvic mission here on earth (cf. Lk 13:32).
We’ve come a long way and the positions, if you will, are almost reversed, so much so that demons are either neglected or discounted entirely with psychiatric, psychological or sociological causes being the stock standard diagnosis for those who are mentally ill today.
One of our younger parishioners asked me the following question just this week as we passed by the graveyard: ‘Father, would you spend a night here’. I smiled. For a moment, I fondly remembered being that age and also, so fascinated by similar things. Another piped up, pointing a finger accusingly at the inquirer, ‘he says there are ghosts here!’ It seems as if it’s only the kids, who still believe in ghosts and demons and the spiritual realm… And Hollywood of course, where the themes of horror, and demons, and evil, have long been popular productions.
Which brings me to a fine warning by C.S. Lewis: ‘There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors…’
The spiritual realm is real. Very real. Just ask a Sangoma. The Bible says, ‘For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ (Eph 6:12). Those who are not ‘flesh and blood’ are demons and the Evil One has control over such. Their mission is to oppose and wage war against that which is of Christ and His Church. And every one of us, who belongs to Him, is a direct, legitimate target of their attacks. The goal? To get you away from Jesus; to have you live your life in bondage and fear.
You don’t need to come into Church screaming like a demoniac to fall foul of evil. The dangers of evil and the occult are all around. And most often Satan and his demons exercise a subtle influence over the world. For example, how many people rather run first thing to the horoscopes in the morning to see how the day is going to be, than to turn to God in prayer.
Because we as Christians have trusted in Jesus Christ, as our Lord and Saviour, and we have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit within, demons simply cannot occupy our heart, soul and mind – the Holy Spirit has full reign. But while they cannot live within, they certainly can whisper in the ear. And they look specifically for weaknesses and vices. Those, they will exploit. Give the Devil and his demons a half-a-chance, and they will wreck your life. Again, the goal is to get you away from Jesus and have you live your life in bondage and fear.
So it may be that they collude with the alcohol, or the chemical dependence, or with the spirit of jealousy, greed, gluttony, envy, gossiping, ignorance, hatred, stress, a fear of loneliness; together, they will destroys everything they touch. Working with an unprotected individual, i.e. a non-believer, the results are even more horrific: People die, families are torn apart, false gods are worshipped as societies and even whole nations are reduced to nothingness. It’s then that they really rejoice. Remember, man by nature is fallen and given to sin, so it is not a very hard thing to do.
And this is exactly why you and I as believers are called ‘to put on the whole armor of God’ (Eph 6:11) and preach deliverance in Jesus. For He is the One who is strong enough to defeat Satan, demons and the prisons they hold men to. He is more than able to set us free. And He shed His blood for our freedom from all manner of sin.
So ask Him to come, to come and set you free. Renounce the sin that has been holding you back. In the name of Jesus, command demons to flee. Put sin to death. Take back your thought life. Start again. And trust in the infinite mercy of the Deliverer, who said to the demons tormenting a man in Capernaum over two thousand years ago: ‘“Be quiet!’… ‘Come out of him!”’
Then you too will know the peace of mind, the ‘quiet’, that state of right-thinking that come from God alone.