January 31, 2021; Mark 1:21-28; 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
In today’s gospel, Jesus is at the synagogue at Capernaum and cures a man who is possessed by a demon. It is crucial to this story that the demon speaks. It cries out, “What do you have to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” This is crucial because if the demon had remained silent, we might not know it was there. The story does not describe the possessed man with any unusual characteristics. He is not pale, agitated, or foaming at the mouth. He could well look like everyone else in the synagogue. It is only when the demon speaks that we know it is present. Then Jesus is able to drive it out.
This story is telling us that evil is not always apparent in the people and circumstances around us. How often have we watched the news after some horrible mass shooting and heard interviews by the shooter’s neighbors? They describe the man as a quiet person who walked his dog and helped the elderly on the street take out their garbage. The shooter was filled with violence and rage, but that did not become apparent until he acted. How often do we find ourselves in a conversation with others that is going smoothly until a certain topic comes up? Then the air is filled with bizarre ideas and lies. They were there all along, but we did not recognize them until they were spoken.
Please understand. I am not saying that there are demons in the biblical sense possessing the people or circumstances around us. But I am saying that there are harmful tendencies and lies that exist in our relationships and in our society. We should know that they are there. How do we know this? We know by speaking the truth. It was when Jesus placed the truth of his gospel before the people in the synagogue that the demon cried out. So, too, when we speak the truth, the demons around us emerge.
This is why parents and those who mentor others should speak the truth. Our children and those we guide could well be carrying lies within their hearts that are harming them. But when we speak the truth and say, “You are a person of value. You have a great gift. I am proud of you,” then the air is opened. Then the lie can come out, a lie that insists that someone is unworthy or without gifts. Once it is exposed, we can deal with it. We should not be afraid to speak the truth of our faith in social settings, We should have the freedom to say, “I believe that every person, regardless of race or nationality, is a person of value. I believe we have a responsibility to care for the poor.” When we speak that truth, prejudices and selfishness might emerge in the comments of others. But once they are exposed, we can address them.
The evil around us is not always visible. But truth flushes it out. When the evil emerges, it might well cry out to us, “What do you have to do with us? Have you come to destroy us?” The answer to that is question is “yes,” because we like Jesus are called to expel evil from its hiding place and then build the Kingdom of God.