Mark 1: 21-28
On they went to Capernaum where, on the holy day, they went to church. And he started teaching. People were captivated with what he had to say because he had real conviction about it, rather than just droning on like the clergy. Right away, though, a person with an evil spirit started yelling: “You’ve got nothing to do with us, Jesus of Nowheresville. You’ve come here to wreck our church, haven’t you, you holier-than-thou-think-you’re-a-big-shot!”
But Jesus said, “Shut up and get out of here!” And the evil one left, shaking his fists and screaming obscenities all the way out the door.
Everyone was unsettled, whispering among themselves, saying, “How’d he do that? That took cojones! He even tells the s-o-bs where to get off – and they do!” And so he began to be famous around the region.
[See also, previous comments on this passage.]
We don’t like to think about evil much. In this day and age, we like to say evil is such an old-fashioned idea. People aren’t evil. They’re just “troubled,” or “insensitive,” or perhaps even, “selfish,” “boorish,” or “annoying.” Maybe we say they just “need to be educated.” And besides, “there’s good and bad in everyone, right?”
We especially don’t like to think about people with evil spirits in churches. After all, aren’t churches supposed to be where you can go to get away from evil. Aren’t they supposed to be full of good people? Churches especially (and I’d guess that Christian churches aren’t the only communities so afflicted), though tend to attract people with evil spirits.
But here it is, “a person with an evil spirit.” Granted, Mark doesn’t say “an evil person.” There’s no way of getting around it. Mark doesn’t say “a person who was having a bad day,” or “a person who needed educated.” Mark says an evil spirit. Here is a congregation with evil in their midst. When Jesus arrives on the scene, it has to be dealt with before anything else can happen.
There’s a reason the evil is couched in terms of possession. The man with the evil spirit is not objecting to any specific teaching of Jesus. It’s not a doctrinal dispute. It’s about Jesus’ presence threatening to remove the congregation from his possession. “You’ve got nothing to do with us. You’ve come to wreck our church.” The church is already a wreck, but at least it’s his wreck to have and to hold. So long as it is possessed by and belongs to him, so long as he is in control, it really doesn’t matter what gets taught. So long as the clergy drone on and on without moving the people to act any differently, everything’s ok. When people start to be captivated by someone or something else, when the possessors lose their grip on their possessions, that’s when all hell breaks loose.
What is particularly evil, at least as evil is encountered here, is when people (and worse, entire congregations of people) are considered something to be possessed. Churches, and all kinds of communities, can weather all kinds of differences of opinion and live with members holding contradicting doctrinal, and political, positions. What destroys them is one person (or a group – but such groups tend to resolve to only one or two persons) pulls all the strings.
For all the talk about harmony that churches use to cover up and get along with that kind of evil, Jesus won’t tolerate it. The evil has got to go. Otherwise they soon find that, at best they can’t do what they’re called to do, and at worst congregational life becomes a living hell.
[Bonus: One might ask where Jesus got the ability to evict the evil spirit. Answer: by moving the people with a greater captivating vision first.]
[A word of caution: Pastors looking at these remarks with an eye to preaching a sermon on this passage this week may be tempted to picture a certain person or persons in the congregation as the man (or woman) possessed, who is blocking some congregational agenda the pastor has in mind. There are two alternative possibilities to consider before "going there." First, is that as much as it may feel like a control issue, it may be a real (legitimate) difference of convictions around an issue. Indicator: Is this person resisting on this particular issue, or is he or she resisting on everything no matter who proposes it, unless it's his or her idea? The second possibility is that it's the pastor who has the need to be in control. Imagine Jesus coming into your congregation on Sunday, without any notice, and when the time came he gets up and says, "Excuse me, I'm preaching today." When you're honestly ready to let him do it, then you're ready to "go there."]