My sermon for this morning was based on Mark 1:21-28.
To download an audio of my sermon, click here.
So this is probably an awkward passage for most modern Christians. The reason being is most Christians I know (myself included) don't believe in literal demonic possession and exorcism. Jesus and his contemporaries apparently did, but today we recognize most historic cases of "possession" to have likely been instances of misunderstood mental illness.
But I think you and I can still draw a valuable lesson from the Gospel for today, and whether we are aware of it or not, we can probably relate to the concept of possession. Possession, in essence, is just a description of a will within you acting in opposition to what you would consider to be your own will.
For example, I think most people are actually decent at the core, but have you ever just lost it and said or did something that you regret, or you never would have done under normal circumstances? Have you ever done something you regret or would love to take back? Have you ever said, "What possessed me to to that?"
As for me, check, check and check.
I don't think many of us actually feel that "The devil made us do it". People like that tick me off because they are basically shrugging off any responsibility they have for acting in a crappy way. The reality is, we all lose control from time to time and act in ways we normally wouldn't.
Part of human nature is living with and denying certain impulses which we know to be wrong and which would get us into trouble.
Of course, some people don't just act badly occasionally. Some people act badly on a regular basis, giving in to these impulses on a regular basis. In fact, some people only seem to have that mode of being, and no others.
Maybe the possessed guy in today's Gospel passage was like that. We don't know exactly what his problem was, or why he was so threatened by Jesus. All we know is that Jesus' presence in the synagogue really rattled his cage. "Have you come to destroy us?", he asks.
Several possibilities spring immediately to mind. Perhaps this man was a scribe, Rabbi, Pharisee or elder, and Jesus threatened his political or social position. Perhaps he was a strict Jew, and Jesus' teachings threatened the spiritual box in which he was living. Perhaps he lived a sinful life and Jesus' moral teachings simply threatened his fun.
Either way, he acts out against Jesus, and Jesus "casts out" his demon. Similar to the calling of the first four disciples last week, this passage is likely a condensation of a longer conversation, but regrettably we do not exactly what Jesus actually said to him.
We don't and cannot know exactly what happened that day, but we can still ask ourselves what our own "unclean spirits" are. What are our "demons"?
Are we governed by anger, greed, lust, a lack of sympathy, a lack of mercy, apathy, a disregard for the welfare of our neighbour, impatience? As I said, all of us fall short of our ideal from time to time.
In Christianity, Jesus Christ and God represent the ultimate ideal. They represent infinite compassion, mercy, love, justice and patience, and of course we are going to fall short of that. But we keep trying.
Today, I invite you to reflect on what your own demons are. By "naming" those demons, we can make a start to putting them to rest and leading the life we are called to live: happy, joyous and free.