Get It OUT: Understanding the Unclean Spirits
Scholars believe that Mark wrote his gospel first. It is the shortest gospel, the most succinct, as if Mark is just trying to get it all down, all those memories of what Jesus did and said.
Mark does not begin with the story of Jesus' birth, it begins with Jesus' baptism and his journey into the desert where he is tempted by the devil. When Jesus emerges from the desert, he calls his disciples to follow him and then he begins his ministry.
The first miracle in the gospel of Mark is an exorcism. Ex, to cast out. Jesus casts out a demon, or in the Greek, an unclean spirit.
Unclean spirit. Demon. Sounds medieval, doesn't it? We don't have those anymore. We don't believe in that kind of stuff today. Try going out and talking about unclean spirits or demons on the streets. The only people who talk about that stuff are the homeless, mentally ill and religious fanantics, right? If you go into work and start talking about unclean spirits, they may suggest you take a nice long leave of absence.
Instead we talk of things like: anger issues, addiction, anxiety, agoraphobia, alcoholism and depression. We hospitalize and we medicate and both of these things are good- hey, medicine and science are not our enemies. But if we neglect the spiritual aspect of our lives, if we neglect the role of God and of the darkness, then we will never master our own minds. It is one thing to get a doctors help. It is another to sanitize and diagnose while ignoring the life of the soul and the role of God in our lives.
If we want to be truly well, we must open our minds to the life of the spirit, to things that we cannot see but nevertheless influence us profoundly. We must return to Scripture and look carefully at what Jesus did when battling temptation and darkness. We must listen and we must learn. We may know a great deal about the human mind and body in this the 21st century, but Jesus knew more.
Jesus enters a synagogue to worship God on the Sabbath, as all devout Jews would. And an unclean spirit confronts Jesus. Notice that this spirit is not called evil, just unclean. And notice that this spirit confronts Jesus when Jesus is trying to worship! Often our darkness, our unclean influences rise faster when we are growing closer to God. When my husband and I were about to walk into the Church of the Holy Sepulcre in Jerusalem, the most holy site in the world and a place that I had longed to go, a man came out of the shadows and began to scream at us. I can't even remember what he wanted, money or something. I only remember the look on his face and how much he disturbed me. We decided not to go into the church that day because he upset me so much. Instead, we went early the next morning. But I later wondered who he was and how he prevented us from entering.
Notice that this unclean spirit speaks in the plural. It has many voices. And I would suggest that all of us, ALL OF US, have experienced unclean spirits at some points in our lives. Their voices differ. They find strongholds of hurt or pain in your childhood and play on them. A child whose father drank every night will grow into a man with an inner voice that tells him that alcohol will make him feel better and that he deserves a drink, that, in fact, he cannot live without that drink, and another and another, even when his body is being poisoned he looses his job, he may not be able to cast out the unclean spirit.
Sally has been married for four years. She has an unclean spirit that tells her she cannot tell her husband if she wants something or she is upset because that is unattractive and she will be bothering him. So when he says something that hurts her feelings at a party, she buries it and scolds herself. "You are just too sensitive," the voice says in her mind. "You are too needy and insecure. If you tell him how you feel, he will get angry and he will leave you." So she buries her needs and wants and gets more and more distant from her husband and miserable. And one of two things can happen, either she blows up or she poisons her love for him by becoming so unhappy and passive agressive. And their marriage has no honesty and they are not talking to each other and that is just what the devil would want.
Or take a young man who was made fun of in childhood. Kids called him fat. So he believes that he is fat, even when he grew up tall and grew into himself. But he hates his body and irrationally hides from all kinds of exercise. He will come up with all kinds of excuses why he cannot take the time to move his body. And his unclean spirit tells him how ugly he is, how he could never be good at sports, and not to make a fool of himself in front of other people.
The unclean spirit that confronts Jesus knows who Jesus is immediately, when everyone else is pretty clueless. And the unclean spirit is paranoid, scared stiff. Irrational fear is a sign of an unclean spirit. And what does Jesus do? Jesus does not answer the spirit or try to argue with it. Let me say that again, Jesus does not answer the spirit or try to argue with it. He speaks directly and simply with two commands...
Come out of him!
Be silent and come out.
But how can we, when we have unclean spirits or thoughts, how can we silence them?
Hear me on this... You cannot silence them. Only God can do that. But you can bring them out. You can get them out of yourself by writing them down or speaking them to someone that you trust. I can tell that I have an unclean spirit when I am embarrassed to tell my husband what I am thinking. Even thinking about telling him my stupid thought about how fat I am or how I messed something up makes me realize that the thought is unclean. If you are embarrassed to share it, do it anyway.
If Sally had simply spoken immediately about her hurt feelings with her husband, they might have grown closer. But she would have to be careful to speak as if it is an unclean spirit and not as if it is her, for example, "I felt angry..." Is much better than "you made me angry....or you are a jerk..." If you express your experience as just that, something that you thought or felt then it does not have to become your whole identity and it is easier to get it out. It is also easier for others to hear. These thoughts and feelings that we all have are just that, thoughts and feelings. You are a holy child of God and thoughts and feelings don't define you.
We live in a world of unclean spirits. All you have to do is sit down to pray and you will hear them. They can be as simple, as "you don't have time to pray, get up and do the laundry!" Or as dark as, "you don't deserve to be alive, go and kill yourself."
When you hear the voices of temptation and darkness, hear them, speak them or write them and get them outside of yourself, and then pray. Only Jesus can make them go away. He doesn't even destroy them, he just sends them away and the implication is that they can and sometimes do come back. But this was his first miracle. This is what Jesus does. He saves us from ourselves.
- The Very Rev. Kate Moorehead