And they went into Capernaum; and straightway on the sabbath day he entered into the synagogue, and taught. And they were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes. And there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, Saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God. And Jesus rebuked him, saying, Hold thy peace, and come out of him. And when the unclean spirit had torn him, and cried with a loud voice, he came out of him. And they were all amazed, insomuch that they questioned among themselves, saying, What thing is this? what new doctrine is this? for with authority commandeth he even the unclean spirits, and they do obey him.And immediately his fame spread abroad throughout all the region round about Galilee.
—Mark 1 21-28.
King James Version, because I don’t have the energy to deal with copyright permissions this morning.
Before we begin…
The following is not a sermon. Nor is it a theologically deep analysis of the above passage Thoughtheological it remains.No great interpreters of scripture will be referenced. In fact the whole excursive rant could be viewed as entirely humanistic. To which I would respond, ‘yes, and…’?
My second thought for a title revolved around ‘the asshole in me acknowledges but in no way accepts the asshole in you’ but really that’s a bit lengthy and one too many assholes for a blog title.
Jesus and the Heckler
Our passage here opens with Jesus teaching in a synagogue. The crowds, per usual were quite impressed with his TED Talk. What great words! This guy has really thought out this meaning of life stuff. Now amongst them was a fella with an unclean spirit. We can safely assume everyone knew about this. It was just one of those things polite people don’t talk about. They wouldn’t want to be thought of as not being nice would they? It was the sabbath after all. Just a little bit longer and service would be over and they could all disperse. Oh yes, there goes… lets say Bob… yes… there goes Bob again being Bob. I mean, that guy sure has issues. oh yep, he’s doing the “art thou come to destroy us” bit again. Used to really creep us out but you get used to it. Just smile and it’ll pass. Really, Jesus… this happens every Shabbat service. Nothing to worry about. Jesus? Jesus, what are you doing?!
Is Christianity nice?
I do not know when Christianity first became associated with niceness, but i’ll bet the rise of television ministry did not help. It’s hard to do a keep an audience tuned to a fire and brinstone sermon when you’ve got Andy Griffith on the other channel. (I certainly would turn the channel) However with this polish, with the smiles, with the ‘God will bless you’ ministries questions soon arise.
Television aestetics aside, wouldn’t the world be a better place if we had a nicer Christianity? Doesn’t God want us ultimately just to be happy?
Have you looked outside? Is happiness the priority? Surely we have more pressing matters at hand, non of which will ‘niceness’ be of much help with. When confronted with the evils of the world, it is impossible to be nice. The type of niceness that can coexist with poverty, disease, and violence found in this world is evil.
But it is common, how many of us smile and go about our day while our brother and sister waste away?
But look, he’s an alcoholic. She beats her kids. Those children are a bunch of delinquints.
Bob’s just an asshole.
So Jesus does what no one else was willing to do, he confronted the asshole. Hold your peace. Evil spirit come out. Jesus stopped and dealt with the issues. It would have been easy, far too easy to just accept the demon possessed congregant as he was. But it takes God to take pause, and deal with the uncomfortable situation that comes with healing the demons amongst us. Jesus does not cast the man out. The man is not evil, but possessed by evil. And what discomfort. The spirit is described as being torn from him. What isn’t mentioned but we know because we’ve all been there is how uncomfortable that whole scene was for everyone else in the congregation.
So we come near the conclusion of the passage. Not to the last words, where all are amazed and Jesus is famous across the land. No I want to concentrate on the lasts question the congregation asks themselves: ‘What new doctrine is this?’
Oh the shelves that could be filled with the various doctrines of the church, the commentaries on said doctrines, the history and development of such commentaries on said doctrines and so forth. But in this passage we find no wise words of Jesus. He does not discuss the proper role of the church and state. He does not even discuss the proper relationship of a person and money, a favorite topic of his.
No, the congregation of this synagogue sees doctrine embodied. This is how we are to live? Putting down our lectures on morality and ethics, and dealing with the demons we have in front of us. Demons not in the etherial, other worldly, way portrayed in The Exorcist. Demons that are far more common. How about the demons of sickness, of poverty, of violence and anger, of loneliness, of hatred, of ignorance? When I go to church, really when I go anywhere, I see these all around me. And it is out of some socially conditioned ‘niceness,’ not wanting to get involved, not wanting to seem impolite, that I go about leaving them be. There are ‘assholes’ out there I would rather just politely nod to and go on with the day rather than confront and get to the healing of the matter.
But this is not how we have been shown to live.
When we encounter evil spirits, we should not go about our day without confronting them. When homophobia, white supremecy, classism, poverty, hunger, loneliness and all the other evils that break up appear before us, cast them out.
Thou shalt not ignore assholes.
Especially on Sundays, during your gatherings together, when this evil is most apparent, most visible, especially then cast out this evil. Yes there will be tearing, yes there will be yelling, but in the end, that unclean spirit will be cast out and your brother and sister and yourself will be healed.