At the end of the year, photojournalists highlighted the unfathomable tragedies that surrounded 2023. Among them were the war in Ukraine, the war between Israel and Hamas, shattering earthquakes in Afghanistan, Morrocco, Syria and Turkey, fatal fires in Maui and record-breaking mass shootings in our country. These frightening realities visited our living room screens nightly. I pray that we do not become immune to evil and the carnage we have seen worlds away. I pray that the Good News that explodes into the universe through Mark’s Gospel will take hold of each of us as we walk with Jesus into the places where evil wants to undermine goodness and threaten the authority of the one who has come to save us and indeed all persons.
The initial leap of Jesus into his public ministry in Mark’s Gospel is meant to reveal how the Kingdom of God rushes boldly into venues of darkness. Jesus is not afraid. He does not cower. He engages evil with authority, like a mother saving her child from choking. These are emergent cases, and Jesus, despite where he finds himself — in the synagogue on the Sabbath — rises to the occasion with a command of force.
What is a demonic possession anyway? It lies in a mystical scary zone. I remember being terribly frightened at the thought that evil was anywhere nearby. Once, very young in my spiritual walk, God showed me how to overcome the terror of demonic presence by using his holy name with authority, casting it away. The lesson came in the form of a rabid, barking dog outside a hotel room where my husband and I were staying temporarily while he was in the Air Force in Mississippi. It was the middle of the night, and the dog scratched at the door eerily for no apparent reason; its growling was haunting and constant. Frightened, I sat up in bed and by the power of the name of Jesus Christ, I commanded the animal to leave.
Then silence. It was gone. Many times, over the years, when I found myself to be in an environment of confusion and evil, I have whispered quietly the name of Jesus to bring peace once again. Demons are supernatural beings who wreak havoc in human lives, according to scripture scholar and author Dr. Mary Healy. She says demons can sometimes control a person of whom it has taken possession. “Because Jesus came to destroy the works of Satan (1 John 3:8), casting out demons and eliminating their effects was central to the public ministry of Jesus.” Demons were designated unclean, and the people they possessed were also unclean.
But the irony is that demons, because they live in the supernatural world, could recognize the Christ as the Holy One of God. Christ was a threat to their existence, and the outcry of the man in the synagogue indicated that the power of evil residing in him was soon to be eliminated by the power of God. In Mark’s Gospel, this is the first of Jesus’ mighty deeds.
What is interesting about the work of Jesus in the synagogue that day is this: his teaching was interrupted by a man possessed. But the exorcism by the commanding authority of Jesus became the teaching. The demoniac looked at Jesus and asked, “What have you to do with us?” It is a plural pronoun meaning the man had more than one demon within. The demon(s) identified Jesus as the Holy One of God and asked the question: “Have you come to destroy us?” The entire event is very troubling to the people. Remember the man was unclean, thus, not to engage him was the rule of the day.
But Jesus acts with both compassion and authority, demanding that the demon be quiet and come out of the man. The man convulsed and shouted; the demon left. The event caused the audience in the synagogue to be amazed at the authority in which Jesus taught and healed.
The scuttle of the event traveled rapidly, for just several verses later scripture records, “When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons” (Mark 1:32) and Jesus cast the demons out. Evil had no victory in the presence of the healing power of Jesus.
This incident was the entrance into the mission of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel. Indeed, the Good News, the overcoming of evil, the elimination of Satan’s power over humankind, had begun.
I started this reflection at the doorway of last year’s unfathomable tragedies. They are real and the sorrow is heartbreaking. But if you can weave the overcoming power of the name of Jesus into the darkness of these images, if you can remember the crowds in the churches where you worshipped over the Christmas season, if you can rejoice in the fact that Christ is present in every tabernacle, in every consecrated host during adoration, at every altar where liturgy is celebrated, if you can remember that the Incarnate Christ lives among us and within us today, then in the holy name of Jesus Christ, evil will one day convulse, shout out and be gone.