Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Gospel reading Mark 1:21-28
In last Sunday’s Gospel, we heard about Jesus gathering his disciples, calling them to join him on a journey that would change their lives. This Sunday, we follow Jesus and his new disciples to a synagogue in Capernaum, where he preaches and attracts the attention of the people. While there, he publicly rebukes and frees a man of his unclean spirit by saying “Quiet! Come out of him!” He does this in a dramatic fashion, causing those observing to be amazed and intrigued by his confidence and his powerful ability to do good.
Jesus’ mission to evangelize appears at first glance to be a simple concept, especially because he is also God. Convince others to follow him in pursuit of peace, love, harmony and eternal life. Teach them how to change with inspiring stories and fascinating miracles, speak to their hearts and heal their souls. Drive out some demons, heal the sick, raise the dead, and in no time, everyone will be on board. One big, happy family, united in Christ.
But in reality, it wasn’t as easy as that. God gave us free will, which makes our lives meaningful but messy. Along with free will comes the risk of poor decisions, bad habits and a spiritually unhealthy reliance on being in control. Because of this, even Jesus struggled to reach some people. People who couldn’t let go, weren’t willing to see, or were afraid to change. People who were attached to their own “unclean spirits,” and who couldn’t find a way to quiet them down and get them out. People who couldn’t clear out the junk standing in the way between them and their God, who wanted nothing more than to be close to them.
I consider myself a passionate follower of Christ, but I am still a million miles away from getting as close as I can get to him. If I revealed all of the “unclean spirits” getting in the way of my relationship with him, it would be totally embarrassing. But given that Lent is approaching and I am considering the changes most in need of my attention, I might as well share a few. I sometimes lose my temper and yell at my kids. I swear around my husband even though he really doesn’t like it. I take the easy way in parenting more often than I’d like, meaning that I give into my kids’ demands rather than teach them the lesson that will most help them to grow. And there are some people who I still really need to just forgive.
In reflecting on the way that Jesus drove out demons, I think we can learn some valuable lessons on how to be more effective at getting rid of our own “unclean spirits.” Jesus didn’t politely ask them them to leave, nor did he wait around and hope that they would leave on their own. He paid direct attention, looked them in the face, and with confidence and authority, commanded them to BE QUIET AND GET OUT OF HERE. He was extraordinarily confident because he had faith that the new person without demons would be better and stronger than the person hanging on to them. He knew that getting rid of those demons was crucial to that person’s ability to live free, fearlessly love, and walk in peace.
Maybe I’m an idiot for just now making this connection, but I’m realizing that the purpose of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, as well as the season of Lent, is to push us out of our comfort zones and into this business of commanding our sins to get out of here. To drive out our demons so we can be more free. To look our sins in the face and kick them out of our lives. Not just to sweep them under the rug or hide them in a locked room, but to pay attention to them and put them on display, so we can get a good look at what we need to get rid of. To be brave, make the effort, and do the work we need to do to be who God wants us to be. To confidently decide that we want God in control of our lives. Because he knows what’s best for us more than we ever will.
In our quest to get closer to God and to be the best of who he created us to be, I hope that we can find the faith and confidence to command our sins to leave. To throw them out of the way, take a leap, and jump into a new life.