The Worshiper with an Unclean Spirit
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, throwing him into convulsions 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.
There is a tension that preachers live with constantly. On one hand we are called to proclaim the truth of the Unconditional Acceptance of Jesus, yet at the same time that very generosity, embodied in the Good News, evokes dark opposition from the destructive forces in the human spirit that seem to prefer bondage and oppression to the offered liberation and freedom.
In almost every age of its history the church has preferred, for the sake of governance and compliance, to hold back on preaching Liberty, Good News, and the Recovery of sight. Thus it seldom proclaims the year of the Lord’s favour.
The resultant religious practice, for it can scarcely be called Christianity, has been a rule bound, ritual embalmed, rote rehearsal of cosy and folksy tradition that has, as its main purpose, the studied avoidance of anything that may disturb the status quo.
Such compliance to convention and in the worst sense of the word, conservatism, has often, as was the case in Apartheid South Africa, included the collaboration with whatever political ideology was in power. The church, the synagogue, the temple, become bland and banal and also indistinguishable from the surrounding culture and context.
Don’t get me wrong, it is a comfortable place for prophets, preachers and proclaimers to live. People embrace you, encourage you, support you professionally and economically, because you are saying what they want and like to hear. I like to live at peace and to live well.
It is however, not the way of Jesus.
Watching the master prophet, proclaimer and preacher of the Good News of God’s Unconditional Acceptance to All, we see the conundrum at work.
On the one hand people sense the difference. They speak of such proclamation as “a breath of fresh air”. They will say modern day equivalents of, “You teach with authority, not like the Scribes.” ; something along the lines of, “Our last preacher never told us that!”
Yet, despite the attraction of the Good News, such proclamation will inevitably and simultaneously, evoke demonic reprisals.
My detective mind is tickled to speculate what office the man, possessed by the unclean spirit, held in the Capernaum synagogue? Was he the Treasurer? The Choir Director? The Youth Pastor? Was he the Senior Steward?
My experience of Good News preaching is that sooner or later, preaching the Unconditional Acceptance of Jesus will rile someone in the status quo power structure enough, for the demonic in them to manifest.
It is essential at these moments of oppositional confrontation, that we have the same prayer shaped insight of Jesus, that will enable us to separate the darkness of the opponent’s behaviour from their essential nature in God. Only if we can do that will we, as those being attacked, be able to take authority over the darkness whilst still preserving the underlying health and dignity of the temporarily possessed ones.
Hearing truth makes us all angry at some point. That is unavoidable.
The freedom that is that truth’s gift to us may, however, first require the exorcism of our fearful demons that are so resistant to the new that Jesus wants to bring us.