We cannot stand alone in battling evil
As part of a community of faith, we join Jesus in the fight against sin
January 29, 2006 -- Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Michael Stubbs
It's flu season. One of the signs of true influenza is its rapid spread through a school or community. The highly contagious infection passes from one person to the next. It cannot survive in isolation.
In a sense, sin behaves the same way. It also can spread among persons in close contact with one another. That explains the warning that we have all heard, not to run with the wrong crowd. Those around us influence us, for good or for bad.
The epitome of a person who can influence us for bad is the devil. In Sunday's gospel reading, Jesus drives the devil out of a man. This is the first of many exorcisms that Jesus will perform.
When the demon addresses Jesus through the possessed man in the gospel story, it uses the first person plural. "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?" The "us" suggests a collective reality. Does this demon consist of multiple personalities? Later on in Mark's gospel, Jesus will encounter another possessed man who also points to this collective reality, "My name is Legion, for we are many." (Mark 5:9) That implies a huge number, since the Roman legion included more than 6,000 men. Imagine that many demons in one's psyche.
In any event, the possessed man in our gospel story does not make quite that large a claim. While continuing to talk with Jesus, he returns to the first person singular, "I know who you are, the Holy One of God!" So this demon is a single entity speaking on behalf of a larger group.
Jesus has indeed come to battle, not just this one specific demon, but all the evil in the world. Jesus will perform other healings as well. He will give sight to the blind, open the ears of the deaf. In all those cures he will proclaim the compassion and mercy at the heart of God's kingdom.
But the exorcisms of Jesus reflect another concern as well. They pertain to the battle that Jesus wages upon the forces of evil. His struggle against evil runs as a constant theme throughout the gospel of Mark. It begins with Jesus' 40 days in the desert, where Satan tempts him.
Soon afterwards Jesus will perform his first exorcism, described in Sunday's gospel reading. Others will follow throughout his ministry. Eventually, Jesus will also stand up to human opponents. Members of the religious establishment, scribes and Pharisees and priests, will ally themselves against Jesus. Finally, Jesus' struggle against evil will reach its climax in his crucifixion. He will use his own death as the secret weapon against the forces of sin and death.
In his struggle against evil, Jesus battles against, not just one opponent, but a whole army of enemies. The demon that he exorcises in Sunday's gospel reading is just one of many. But if evil is a collective reality, that explains why Jesus has established a community to join with him in the fight. We cannot stand alone as individuals. But as part of the community of faith, we will find victory with Jesus Christ. That is the purpose of the Church.
(Fr. Stubbs, a priest of the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, has a master's degree in theology from Harvard.)