Mark 1:21-28 (NRSV)
They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, '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.' But Jesus rebuked him, saying, 'Be silent, and come out of him!' And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, 'What is this? A new teaching -- with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.' At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
In our post-modern world, we like to think ourselves removed from these first century patterns of thought: that human behavior can be governed by supernatural beings who can invade our bodies, reconfigure our perceptions, and move us to act in ways we otherwise would not.
I, however, am currently host to a merry colony of cold viruses. They are clearly having a good time. Equally clearly, I, the owner of the establishment, have not been invited to the party.
Supernatural beings? Well, no. These being are definitely natural. But they've also definitely invaded my body. While here, they're playing with my perceptions. My sense of smell is wrecked. My teary eyes don't see as well. My feverish skin can't tell what the room temperature is.
And here I am, on a work day, flat on my back in bed.
We're not so far from the unclean spirits, then, are we?
Particularly because this world is filled with other unclean spirits that have even greater power to invade, reconfigure, and move us to act contrary to our best selves. For many, mood-altering substances become a gateway to addiction (a literal unclean "spirit"). The pervasive assumptions of racial privilege blind all too many white Americans, myself included, to the realities experienced by people of color. I am also aware of a cry for freedom from "political correctness" in this country that, when I look at it closely, reveals itself not as a freedom to express myself, but as a license to treat others badly.
Would that freeing ourselves of these unclean spirits and their countless counterparts were as simple as commanding them! It's not - and yet, it is. To cure my cold, I'll give my body time to expel these viruses without distraction. To win freedom from substance abuse, people govern their will, and choose not to take the next drink. To overcome racism, people will seek to learn what they do not know, and choose new ways to act. To overcome self-centeredness, people will recognize that the stranger is, indeed, their brother or sister.
Be silent, unclean spirits, and come out!
Give us the humility and the confidence, O God, to recognize the unclean spirits to whom we give dominion in our lives. We pledge our best efforts to rid ourselves of them, and in your name, to drive them forth. Then, O God, give us hearts to care for those whom we have harmed, and to assist those who still struggle with their demons. Amen.