4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today’s gospel reading presents Jesus driving out what Mark calls “unclean spirit” – or, in other words, a demon. This is not the only exorcism Jesus will perform during his public life. The Gospels show him performing many such exorcisms. They were needed whenever an evil spirit took possession of someone.
Today’s gospel passage twice insists that Jesus was teaching with an authority that is never seen before: “The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority…” Even the evil spirits recognized his power and authority over them: “He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.” Jesus’ faithfulness and obedience to his Father’s will gave his teaching with great authority. The authority of Jesus revealed the credibility of his being.
You might have seen movies showing dramatic and graphic scenes of exorcism – like The Exorcist. Yet, usually the evil spirits operate in a more discreet way. This is how the Christian Community Bible describes it: “Physical possession is not the usual way of the devil’s activity in people.” “The Devil operates (far more dangerously because we do not feel it) in the moral life of people.” “He blinds and confuses them with regard to the truth, under the disguise of the angel of light.”
The Christian Community Bible adds this reflection: “Not that the Devil is the cause of every sin and evil that people do. There is also the selfishness of our ‘flesh’ and the lure of the false promises of the world.” “But the Devil, as enemy of God’s kingdom, is never at rest. He is always fostering our temptations.” “With holier persons who are not easy to tempt in a direct way, he goes about deceiving them; he persuades them to give more importance to their own good purposes than to the advice of others and the teachings of the Church.”
Today, unclean spirits, evil spirits or demons continue to possess people – including us – in more ways than we realize and recognize. Today, the devil shows up in the most innocent disguises and in the most attractive ways. The devil uses “spiritual fakery” to deceive us and to blind us. One of its most useful tools is the ability of wrong to imitate right. That is why it is called “spiritual fakery.”
Let me put it this way… With the devil employing spiritual fakery, a focus on material things is masqueraded as good stewardship of our possessions. Loving personal control is disguised as using God-given leadership gifts. Anger is costumed as having a heart for what is right. Self-righteous legalism is presented as loving God’s law. Selfish attention-seeking is posed as being candid about your needs. Judgment and criticism are dressed as a commitment to honesty. Lust is covered up as a celebration of the beauty of God’s creation. Gossip is whitewashed as a prayerful concern for others.
The devil catches our attention with his colorful pictures on the billboards; he smiles and seduces us from the TV screens or computer monitors; he approaches us in the most modern and high-tech ways; he communicates with us instantaneously through social media; It can also approach us in a friend or barkada and lure us to places we should not be going to. It can also convince us, not only to choose the bad over the good, but to settle for the good than striving to go for the best.
Each of us, to some extent, has an unclean spirit in us. By that we mean that we have something in us that keeps us from being the kind of person God wants us to be. There are various unclean spirits that are troubling us and controlling us. Allow me to mention some of them… The unclean spirit of greed that we allow to master us – telling us to work to death to have more of more. The unclean spirit of anger and bitterness that we harbor – depriving us of peace that can only come from forgiveness. The unclean spirit of materialism that influences us – distorting our sense of values and priorities. The unclean spirit of lust that afflicts us – making us addicted to sexual pleasures. And the deadliest of all of these, is the spirit that tells us that we are not important – nobody values us, nobody loves us.
Today’s gospel is an invitation to approach Jesus to let him drive out every unclean spirit from us, and let him replace it with the Holy Spirit. Only the Lord Jesus can cast out an unclean spirit. The Lord can do that by filling us so full of God’s love that there is no room for any other spirit to torture us.