Thursday, January 26, 2012

Must we talk about exorcism?

Our texts for this Sunday are Deuteronomy 18:15-20, Psalm 111, and Mark 1:21-28, which can be read here.

I've been dreading this week for a while--for it brings me to face a topic I would prefer to avoid, a component of Jesus' ministry that I would find it far easier to gloss over or write off as belonging to a past era rather than working to figure out how to apply to our life as modern-day disciples.

Yet this week, we cannot avoid it: it's time to talk about exorcism.

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus does many "works of power"--healing the sick and injured, raising the dead, calming the storm. Yet one of the most frequent ways Jesus displays his power as one filled with the Spirit of God is through casting spirits out of tortured, afflicted people. In addition to today's story of Jesus casting an unclean spirit out of a man in the synagogue, Jesus casts a whole legion of spirits out of a man and into a herd of pigs in Mark 5:1-20, relieves a little girl of a demon in Mark 7:24-30, in Mark 9:14-29 casts a demon out of a boy whom the disciples had failed in their efforts to exorcise (you can read these three very interesting stories here).

Perhaps even scarier than the fact that this is something Jesus did repeatedly--at least scarier to someone like me who admittedly doesn't quite know what to make of exorcism stories--is that the power to exorcise is something Jesus said those who followed him would possess. In Mark 6.7, Jesus "called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits."

What on earth does that mean for we who are sent by Christ today? What is this power Jesus has--this power Jesus has now entrusted to us?

Is this a power that's even valid anymore? In our rational, modern day scientific society, many people write off the "demons" of the New Testament as things like seizures and neurologically explainable mental illness--things better treated with medicine than any sort of holy authority. Unfortunately, this has placed a terrible stigma on those who suffer these things over the centuries--a stigma that I hope, at last, is being removed. It has also led to a restriction of exorcism to faith healers who can lay a hand on a tormented person and leave them writhing on the floor--acts that are often all spectacle and no substance.

The question is: is there something else Jesus is talking about here? Are there other spirits lurking among us today that we are called to play a part in casting out as followers of Jesus--voices that compete with and oppose the Spirit of God within us, hidden tormentors of our souls? What *could* it look like for us to claim this power to exorcise these things that destroy us in the way Jesus intended--and to let Jesus have this sort of power over us?

1 comment:

Thryn said...

Hi, Abby, Interesting musings. Reminds me of Dr. Acolatse's class at Duke. You might hit her up for a brief discussion on this week's topic. What I remember most from that course is the emphatic agreement that Jesus wouldn't lie. He wouldn't pretend to be doing something that he wasn't doing....Don't know if that's helpful, but sure set me to pondering..