Weekly Bible Reflection
Mark's Alternative Economy
Fourth Sunday of Epiphany
Text: Mark 1. 21-28: "Cleansing from the Forces of Evil "
Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
Share your personal experiences of human institutions that acted in an oppressive way that adversely affected people’s lives and well-being (e.g. health services, local authorities etc.); institutions that failed to deliver what they were set up to deliver to the extent that only a ‘complete sweep’ could bring the change needed?
A Window on the Text
Jesus is in the lakeside town of Capernaum and as a good Jewish male he goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath (Saturday) where he teaches the local men and boys. There is an air of authority about Jesus’ teaching which astonishes them all. It is in complete contrast to the teaching provided by the official religious leaders, the scribes (v22). Jesus is in a league of his own. One way of putting it is to say that Jesus knows the One he is talking about in a way that other teachers do not.
In this synagogue setting, Jesus is confronted by a ‘human being’ (Greek anthropos) who is ‘possessed by’ an ‘unclean spirit’ and who shouts out Jesus’ identity – ‘you are God’s Holy One’ (v 24), he says. Interestingly, the text actually says the man is ‘in an unclean spirit’ rather than he has an unclean spirit in him. His life is in chaos. He has so embraced something that is not clean and wholesome in society around him that he is possessed by it.
Unlike the incident that follows, involving the raising up of Simon’s sick mother-in-law from her sickbed (v29-34), there is no request for healing here in the synagogue. However, Jesus responds and sets the man free with a word of command to the evil spirit (v25).
There seems to be something more playing out here than just an individual in crisis, for it is clear not only does the man stand in need of release but the synagogue as an institution does too. The synagogue is not the place of healing, renewal and conversion that it is meant to be. Human well-being and wholeness is not available through the ministry of the synagogue because its leaders lack authority. This story highlights how wholeness of individuals is linked with wholeness of institutions. Institutions sometimes need to be ‘exorcised’ of spirits that oppress and trap people. The release enables them to return to the God-given purpose for which they were first established. Religious organisations can sometimes become so monstrous that they need cleansing!
Jesus’ exorcisms are manifestations of the presence of God’s reign on earth in the here and now. The Good News is that individuals, institutions and whole societies can be liberated from the prevailing mindsets and patterns of life that enslave and destroy. Through the power that was at work in Christ, available to us today through the Holy Spirit of God, people can receive a ‘new mind’. The same power to cleanse is available today and the good news is that evil and unwholesome idea, influences and behaviours can be overcome through non-violent means. We don’t have to destroy human life or whole societies that are deemed evil in order to rid the world of the evil.
Responding as a community
- Can you think of times in the history of Christianity when the church as an institution became so oppressive that the spirit of oppression needed exorcising? Can you think of individual churches or denominations today that need or have recently needed some form of cleansing of a demonic spirit? (e.g. sexual misconduct of leaders) How, if at all, was the unclean spirit dealt with?
- Can you think of times in the history of your community, town, city or nation when life became so oppressive that the spirit of oppression needed exorcising? Can you think of individual communities, towns, cities or nations today that have recently needed some form of cleansing of a demonic spirit? (e.g. Nazism) How, if at all, was the unclean spirit dealt with?
- Name some of the ‘unclean spirits’ that are tearing society apart today. That is, what is driving, distorting and destroying people’s lives? How should we confront these oppressive powers be they in institutions or part of the general ‘atmosphere’ in society as a whole?
- What alternatives are there to war when faced with a society that seems to be ‘possessed’ by evil? Could the war in Gaza have been avoided? From your study of Jesus’ exorcisms, what contribution could the Christian community make to processes of peace?
- Every service of baptism in the early church included exorcism. People were ritually set free from all that had entrapped them in their former life. To what extent is the ministry of prayer with exorcism part of the rhythm of life of your community? Should it become more prominent in your practice today and if so how should it be expressed?
Pray first for those places, institutions, movements, regimes and individuals in the world where there is an unclean spirit that needs to be exorcised, where life is being destroyed. Pray for those who have given themselves over to these spirits and who benefit (financially) or suffer from being their slaves – e.g. human and drug traffickers.
Pray for release from the unclean spirits in which you live. You may wish to name the demons.
You might choose to use the liturgical resource, ‘A Psalm for Casting out Demons’ in Ched Myers, Say to this Mountain: Mark’s story of discipleship, Orbis, Maryknoll, New York, page 229. Warning: The study leaders should think carefully about how to use this in advance of the meeting.
More background Information
- Walter Wink has written extensively on the Powers and uses the term God’s domination free order to describe the kingdom of God. For more on confronting Powers see ‘Social Exorcism: One Little Word in the face of Mortal Ills Prevailing’ by Gabrielle Chavez, Christ the Healer United Church of Christ,
Portland, Oregon at http://cthgathering.org/?page_id=17. For another angle on the subject see Aloysius Pieris S.J. Pophetic humour and the exposure of demons: Christian hope in the light of a Buddhist exorcism at http://eapi.admu.edu.ph/eapr95/aloysius.htm.
- For preachers looking for a really helpful resource to fuel their preparation, see http://www.cityurc.org.uk/sermons/Epiphany%204%20B%20Teaching%20as%20exorcism.pdf
Mark's Alternative Economy - Discussion