Silencing those demons and beginning to serve.

Mark 1:29-39
As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

Human suffering is a great way to meet Jesus.
I would love to have been able to interview the crowd that followed him around during his ministry and establish what percentage of them were following because they had encountered in Jesus, some liberation from their suffering . I am sure they would make up the majority of the crowd. Another sector might be those who were in the process of being healed by ongoing encounter with him?
I like the way the New Revised Standard Version translates the action of Peter’s mother-in-law after the fever.  It renders “dieykonei” as “she began to serve them“. Do you also hear the present continuous sense to it? I love the implication that it was the beginning of perhaps, a lifetime of service?

There is also an interesting quatrain of activities as Jesus goes about his public ministry:

  • He proclaims the unconditional acceptance of God for all, to all.
  • He heals the sick.
  • He casts out darkness(demons)
  • He retreats into prayer.

What a wonderful rhythm for the Christ following life. How often can I recall times of frustration or burn out because I have neglected to attend to these four activities in a balanced way.
As students of yoga know, you cannot only breathe in, nor can you only breathe out.
Yet we who have been blessed, healed, and who have had our darkness dispelled by Jesus. We who now serve and follow him, need to learn the potency and sanity for our own lives of Proclaim, Heal, Remove darkness, Pray. I don’t think the sequential order is essential. What is essential is balancing our lives firmly on those four legs.

Yes, I know I am avoiding commenting on why Jesus wouldn’t allow the demons “who knew him” to speak. I can only speculate from the times we do hear them speak in Mark, that they speak only of themselves in the most egotistical terms. For example, “‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” Mark 1:24. Can you hear the “me” in “Demon“?

For the demons in Jesus’ day, and the “demons” in me now, it is always about “me”.
Why me? Why do I have a fever? Why should I proclaim unconditional love? Why must I be the healer of others and their relationships? Why do I have to put up with the darkness of others? What has it to do with me? Why should I have to pray now?
That’s demonic language.
That’s just not the kind of language that will help any of us understand the selfless, life sacrificing Christ; let alone be healed by him and begin to serve him.
Better we don’t listen to it?
If he can shut those voices up in me, I won’t complain.

Why Demons sleep through sermons.

Mark 1:21-28

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.