“What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” (Mark 1:24)
Our Gospel passage today is a direct continuation of that of last Sunday. Jesus is at the beginning of his public ministry. He sets out to fulfil His prophetic mandate: “to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:18-20).
Already from Last Sunday’s readings, we heard Jesus proclaiming the Gospel – the good news of God’s kingdom at hand, the message of repentance and the call of the fishermen. Today, Jesus is at the Synagogue, where he meets persons held captive by ignorance, demonic oppression and false religion. When we reflect deeply on this passage as well the other readings of today, we cannot but note some vital lessons:
1. The Church is Home to Both Saints and Sinners
One of the accusations against Jesus by the Jewish authorities was His open association with those they considered as sinners such as tax collectors, prostitutes and their friends. Jesus often responded by saying: “I came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Mark 2:17, Luke 5:32). Jesus even gave a parable that before trying to remove the speck in someone’s eye, we should take out the log in ours. (Cf. Matthew 7:3-5). While the religious leaders were pointing fingers at Jesus, they were so blind to realize their own faults not to mention the fact that in their midst were persons who were possessed by demonic spirits.
Just as everyone present at the Synagogue was shocked by the display of the demon-possessed man, it will shock you to realize that even today, there are many demon-possessed persons in our congregation, among the lay faithful, consecrated persons and clergy. To assume that everyone you see well-dressed and sitting calmly in the Church is perfect and holy is to forget that Jesus said: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 7:21). Demonic possession does not show in a person’s face but as Jesus said: “You will know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:16).
To assume that everyone who is a leader in a church assembly (or who performs signs and wonders or makes prophetic utterances) is truly from God is one great mistake. In today’s first reading, God, speaking through Moses warns us of false prophets that would come telling lies and claiming to be who they are not. “The prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.” (Deuteronomy 18:20). The truth is that there are many of such prophets today and it is not so easy to tell the wheat from the weeds (Cf. Matthew 13:25-30)
2. What is the Devil doing in Church?
The question which readily comes to mind now is: “If someone knows he or she is not clean, (that he or she is a witch, belongs to a secret cult, partakes in human sacrifices and rituals etc.) what would such a person be doing in the House of God?” Two reasons readily come to mind:
One, to steal and kill and destroy (Cf. John 10:10) by distracting the flow of worship in Church, (indecent dressing, noise making, use of phone, quarrelling, gossiping etc.), by outright spiritual attacks, by recruiting more members in the name of friendship which is often defined by immorality and so on. Be careful! It is not all that glitters that is gold. In the name of “my church member, my church member” many have walked into serious darkness and sold their souls to the devil. Many are in church but only a few are genuine Christians. This is why God revealed to Isaiah: “These people honour me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.” (Isaiah 29:13).
Two, as darkness attracts light, such persons come to church seeking salvation and deliverance from their bondage; they know how bad they are but they desire to be free. This is why Jesus was not angry with the man himself but spoke directly to the demon: “Be silent, and come out of him.” In fact, this was the reason Jesus went to that Synagogue – to set at liberty those who are oppressed. If Jesus knew there were such persons there and did not shy away from the synagogue, the fact that we know there are demoniacs amongst should not discourage us.
In fact, when you hear of scandals breaking out in the church, when things begin to go viral on social media about this pastor, that priest, that bishop and so on, don’t allow such things discourage you from going to church. Yes, we have sinners amongst us, we have demoniacs holding strategic positions in the church and in the society but should you then throw away the baby and the bathwater? Remember the words of St. Paul “we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12).
3. Hardness of Heart is the First Sign of Demonic Possession
Our responsorial psalm today contains a very strong message: “Oh that today you would listen to his voice! Harden not your hearts.” They often say that a dog that would soon get lost stops listening to the voice of his master. Jesus also noted: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27-28). The sheep of Jesus are those who hear His voice; those who come to tears over their sins and decide to repent. Of course, not those who assume that they are holier than everyone else and the message does not apply to them.
Hardness of heart expresses itself either in the form of self-righteousness or in the form of despair – that is, the feeling that “no matter how I try, I can never amount to anything good.” It is giving up the struggle against sin and drawing a conclusion that all hope is lost. Unlike the people of Nineveh who made frantic efforts to repent as we saw in our first reading last Sunday, those whose hearts are hardened do not bother to lift a finger. They are like stones; no matter how much water you pour on it, the stone cannot absorb it. Jesus Christ said to us: “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” (John 8:34).
When we are neck-deep in sin, the devil makes us believe there can no redemption; our recurrent sinfulness becomes a form of demonic possession and our refusal to come out of it due to our hardness of heart keeps us going deeper and deeper in evil. Today, as you hear this message, God is calling you out of that vicious cycle. You cannot remain a slave forever. Jesus added: “The slave does not continue in the house for ever; the son continues forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:35-36). You are not a child of the devil, you are a child of God. You were not born like this. There was once upon a time in your life when you were not committing that sin. You can still return to that state. Embrace Jesus today and ask Him to deliver you.
4. If you are Not Married, You Shouldn’t be having Sex.
If you want to get the full gist of St. Paul’s message in today’s second reading, then read that of two Sunday’s ago and that of last Sunday. No doubt, we live in a time in history where immorality has become the order of the day and St. Paul’s words are ignored even by those who should be examples in our churches and the larger society. Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. If you cannot hold your flesh, then get married and be faithful to your spouse, if God blesses you with children, don’t kill them. Whatever pushed you to sex should push you to take care of your children. If you are not ready for the responsibilities of marriage or having to take care of children, then take your mind away from sex.
Stop watching pornography, stop being friends with people who are constantly pressurizing you to have sex or who are constantly talking or making jokes about it. As an unmarried person, St. Paul says your only concern should be “about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit” (1 Corinthians 7:32-34). Let me tell you a secret: by asking us to be holy in body and spirit, St. Paul is not placing a burden on us rather he is giving us the surest ticket to freedom and peace of mind. You need to read from verse 35 to the end. St. Paul says: “I am saying this for your own benefit not to lay any restraint upon you…”
Having a boyfriend or girlfriend, one you are sleeping with but not married to, is not enjoyment, it is a heavy burden, it is self-punishment, it is misery and pain, it is a restraint to spiritual growth and self-development. In fact, in verse 40, St. Paul says: “in my judgment, she (that is the unmarried person) is happier if she remains as she is.” There is great joy and peace in not being sexually involved with anyone when you are not married. This is the joy of celibacy and there is an enormous power that comes with it. Only those who are faithfully keeping themselves can understand its bliss. Let us not forget that celibacy already existed in the Jewish religion. Jesus Christ, John the Baptist, St. Paul and many others were celibates.
Conclusion: Exercise Your Authority as a Christian.
Jesus did not teach like the scribes, rather He taught as one who had authority; Jesus taught as God because He knew who He is. When we don’t know who we are, we behave like slaves and allow others to push us around. More still, when in the name of sexual pleasure or in the quest for material riches, we sell ourselves to the devil we become so entangled in sin that our heart becomes hardened and we feel hopeless. If today you hear God speaking to your heart, do not remain in darkness. Come out of that cult, come out of that relationship, come out of that dungeon, come out of that possession. Let your life henceforth become a proclamation of God’s kingdom.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, fill me with the Holy Spirit, cast away from me any attachment to evil, any sinful habit, any demonic possession. Amen
Bible Study: Deuteronomy 18:15-20, Psalm 95, 1st Corinthians 7:32-35 and Mark 1:21-28).