By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus AMEH
Readings: Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 95; 1 Corinthians 7:32-35; Mark 1:21-28
In the Ordinary Time of the Church’s liturgical calendar, our attention is directed to the public life and ministry of Jesus. Interestingly, the Synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) all mention the synagogue as the starting point of Jesus’ ministry (cf. Mat 4: 23; Mk 1:21; Lk 4:14-15). In the gospel text of today’s Mass, which shall be the focus of our reflection, Jesus comes into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and some interesting events took place there. Those events are what we shall x-ray in this reflection.
Saint Mark narrates that Jesus taught “as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.” This manner of teaching, which was new to his audience, made a deep impression on them. Before Jesus, the scribes, who were the experts at interpreting scriptures, and the Rabbis, who taught on virtually all subjects, often made recourse to other older and superior authorities than themselves. So it was common for a scribe or a rabbi to begin making a point by saying something like “According to Rabbi…” or “As it is written in the Torah…”; but Jesus comes, needing no authority to substantiate his teachings. For the Jews, the Torah (the Law – technically, the Ten Commandments and the first five books of our Old Testament) is the supreme authority in all matters of faith, believed to have been given directly to Moses by God, hence, no claim can be laid to any authority higher than this corpus of laws. But Jesus comes and seems to set aside the teachings of the Torah.
In Matthew’s account of the gospel, six times in the fifth chapter, Jesus makes this statement: “You have heard that it was said… But now I say to you…” and each time, referring to a law from the Torah. The implication of such a stance is that Jesus makes himself superior to the Torah, and this was why the people were astonished. While it is easier for us to accept this, because we now know and believe in the divinity of Jesus, to his original audience, this was “a new teaching!” Jesus comes to them as the Messiah, but they did not recognize him as such, hence, their genuine shock at his style of teaching.
But in that congregation was a man possessed by a demon. It was only this demoniac that recognized the power and divinity of Jesus and he acknowledged Jesus’ authority and supremacy when he shouted, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” It is of utmost importance for us to note where this was taking place: The Synagogue! This was a place of prayer, reading and exposition of the scripture. In modern day term, we would say that the demon came to church! Interesting indeed. There are two things we shall draw out of this:
- Even in the gathering of believers, the devil can be present.
Another example of such a scene is recorded in Job 1:6, that when the sons of God came to present themselves before God, Satan was there also. While Satan and his demons may not be physically present, just as we see in our gospel text that he came inside a man, so too can some people carry demonic spirits into the arena of God’s presence, some even without knowing. Some even unconsciously make themselves willing tools in the hand of the devil who uses them to perpetrate evil in the house of God.
- When you hear of cases of stolen money or phones or other valuables in the church, know that Satan came to church;
- when you hear of embezzlement of funds belonging to groups and societies in the church, then know that Satan came to church;
- when you hear of cases of sexual immorality in the house of God, then know that a demon was in church;
- when you see people blatantly disobeying ushers and other church officials who try to ensure a smooth worship experience, know that Satan is in church;
- when you see people indecently dressed in a manner capable of distracting the worshipping community, a demon is in church;
- when you see people chatting on their phones, making and answering calls during Mass and allowing their phones to ring and distract the praying community, know that a demon followed them to church to distract them;
- when you hear a minister of the gospel distorting the word of God to further his/her own selfish motive, then be sure that a demon is in church;
- when church leaders bring comedians to the sanctuary and turn worship sessions into comedy shows, then know that a demon is in church trying to distract the people of God from the real reason they are in church in the first instance.
The list goes on and on, so we need to be careful and watchful not to be carriers of demonic forces, bringing Satan into the presence of God.
2. Jesus has authority over every devil
The demon in the man in the synagogue asked Jesus: “Have you come to destroy us?” The simple and clear implication of this statement is that even the devil realizes his helplessness when Jesus steps into the picture. Before now, Satan held sway in the man’s life, but Jesus came that he might destroy the works of Satan (1 Jn 3:8) and set captives free (Lk 4:18). Jesus said that while the devil and his demons come to steal, to kill and to destroy, he came that we may have life and have it in abundance (Jn 10:10); he also promised to be with us always, till the end of time (Mat 28:20), so, at all times and in all circumstances, Jesus is with us. That is why scripture says “He that is in us is greater than he that is in the world” (1 Jn 4:4).
Ironically, many Christians do not even realize this immense, supreme power of Jesus that is there for them. It is commonplace these days to see supposed Christians scared to death over things that they ordinarily should take authority over in the name of Jesus. By their fears, they diminish the power of Jesus in their lives and magnify the power of Satan over them. Being the deceiver that he is, Satan feasts on their fears and keeps them perpetually caged, and gradually, he destroys their faith and everything about them.
Hear this, child of God: the devil you are afraid of is also afraid of you because of the presence and power of Jesus that is in you. Jesus has absolute authority over the devil and his demons, for all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him (Mat 28:18) and we must, as Christians, trust Jesus more than we fear the devil. That is the only way we can enjoy the abundance of life that Jesus is offering us.
May the power of Jesus destroy the works of Satan in the lives of anyone who has been kept bound in any way. Amen.