At the very outset of Jesus’ public ministry, he enters the Synagogue in Capernaum. Undoubtedly, as there is some evidence suggested in the Gospels that Jesus and Mary had relocated there at some point after the death of Joseph, this was very familiar territory to Jesus.
At this point two remarkable events occur. First is the nature of Jesus’ teaching. When Jesus taught, in the synagogue or elsewhere, he did so with authority. This means that he did not rely on any of the great teachers of the past or the scholars of the Law. He taught with the authority of God himself. The people were not used to that and they were astonished by it. The second is that Jesus comes in direct face-to-face contact with the demons. They recognized him and he engaged them directly. Mark places an exorcism as the first miracle of Jesus.
It is easy to dismiss the importance, reality, and power of demons. As we have reduced angels to cute fancies that don’t really mean anything, we have certainly taken demons out of the picture entirely. Sure, there is a fascination with demonic possession in cinema, but that’s mostly because it makes for shocking visuals and a great story line.
In his Gospel, St. Mark places the demons – indeed the entire kingdom of Satan – in an apocalyptic struggle with Jesus and the Kingdom of God. From a literary and theological standpoint, this is the principal underlying theme of the Gospel. It is through this struggle that Jesus takes up the Cross and, in what would seem to be a victory for the kingdom of Satan as Jesus dies alone and abandoned, becomes upended through the power of the Resurrection.
Jesus’s struggle with the kingdom of Satan, and indeed with the power of evil in the world, was real. We know evil when we see it.
Unfortunately, most of the time, we do not see evil. The people in the synagogue did not experience what Jesus did. While the assembled saw the power of the exorcism, they did not hear the dialogue between Jesus and the demons. In a sense, this encounter with the demons happened as an aside for the reader of the Gospel to understand the mission and message of Jesus.
The demons recognized and feared Jesus. Knowing who Jesus is brought them trepidation. They knew that their time was at an end.
While avoiding evil is the moral and right thing to do, avoiding the awareness of evil is dangerous. When we fail to recognize that we encounter real, physical, and personal evil at various times in our lives, we risk coming under the influence of that same evil. The Cross of Jesus brings an end to the reign of Satan’s kingdom, yet evil is still a present and pervasive force in the world. We experience evil in many different forms, and must avoid the occasional compromise with evil wherein we think that we are actually achieving a higher good. Evil can root itself within us with very little effort.
Also problematic is when we categorize evil as being present primarily or even exclusively with certain groups or movements. We need to be conscious of the struggle of evil – the tendency to sin called concupiscence – that resides in each of us. Often times we miss it, allowing our own ego-self-preservation to block not only our awareness of evil within, but also closing ourselves off to the healing presence of God who desires to eradicate Satan from our lives.[[In-content Ad]]
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.