This blog uses the daily readings of the Reformed Churches as a focus for meditation, along with a headline from world news:
ATROCITY IN BOSTON
J.B. Phillips New Testament (PHILLIPS)
Jesus heals in Capernaum
31-32 So he came down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and taught them on the Sabbath day. They were astonished at his teaching, for his words had the ring of authority.
33-34 There was a man in the synagogue under the influence of some evil spirit and he yelled at the top of his voice, “Hi! What have you got to do with us, Jesus, you Nazarene—have you come to kill us? I know who you are all right, you’re God’s holy one!”
35-36 Jesus cut him short and spoke sharply, “Be quiet! Get out of him!” And after throwing the man down in front of them, the devil did come out of him without hurting him in the slightest. At this everybody present was amazed and they kept saying to each other, “What sort of words are these? He speaks to these evil spirits with authority and power and out they come.”
37 And his reputation spread over the whole surrounding district.
This single incident gives me a chance to examine Luke’s storytelling in detail. He has told how Jesus was attacked by his own neighbours and forced to flee from Nazareth because he had hinted that God’s good gifts might be intended for gentiles. Now however he comes to a nearby village – Luke tells his (gentile) readers that it’s in Galilee-where he teaches, probably in the synagogue, on the Sabbath. Luke was using Mark’s gospel as his main source material at this point, but he omits a detail that mark gives, “unlike the scribes, he taught with authority.” Luke leaves out the reference to scribes because a) that’s a Jewish quarrel; and b) because the nature of Jesus authority is his only concern. The healing story which follows is an illustration of Jesus’ authority. The evil spirit tries to gain authority over Jesus by naming him(accurate naming was held to give power over the person named.) Jesus responds with an irresistible command which silences the evil spirit and drives it from the possessed person, who recovers his health.
The story is like the cowboy movie in which an unknown drifter comes into town and is called out by the resident bully. In a blur of movement the drifter shoots the gun out of the bully’s hand and smacks him to the ground. The citizens realise that a new power has come into their midst.
In Jesus case, his authority is exercised OVER evil, ON BEHALF OF people, to set them free.
Anyone who thinks that evil spirits are unreal can think of what happened yesterday in Boston, as well as reflecting that misdirected USA drones have killed and maimed far more people than that, in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I’m not taking a cheap shot at the USA. The Boston bombs are an atrocity but we all live in a world where atrocities are all too common; and we choose which ones we see. My own country’s form of protection is to threaten potential enemies with nuclear destruction. I’m sure we need to get rid of these horrific weapons; but weapons do not commit atrocities; people, possessed by evil spirits, do. I am referring to the power of communicated violence in developed societies, the glorification of brutality in all media, the demonizing of political enemies, the dehumanizing of sexual relationships, the rejection of courtesy. gentleness and honour.
Faced with this pervasive evil, even our best understanding and compassion fail; we need the kind of authority ascribed to Jesus in Luke’s story, and indeed, in all the gospels.