4th Sunday Ordinary Time
January 28, 2018
“What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?
Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
from Mark 1:21-28
This Sunday a most interesting exchange takes place. Jesus is confronted with a man who has "an unclean spirit”. But this is no ordinary conversation that Jesus is having with this unfortunate man, for the man speaks in the plural. He does this because he is filled with many demons. Jesus takes both angels and demons very seriously, and we would do well to do so too. Although the possessed man had never seen Jesus, the demons inside him had met Jesus on another occasion. The Bible tells us that the angels were created, like human beings, to be good. They had perfect knowledge of God and could see him. At that time, there were no demons, only good spirits.
But God subjected these angels to some form of a test, and since they had perfect knowledge and by nature were created with a clear vision of God, being pure spirits and not needing faith, they only had one chance to say yes to God. We don't know exactly what their test was, but many of the church fathers thought that God showed the angels the creation of the earth and human beings; of how we would fall into sin, and how the Lord who created the angels would become a human being to save us, and that the angels would have to worship the Lord in human form, an order of being by nature lower than themselves. Whatever this test was (we will get all the details in the next world, for God doesn’t satisfy our curiosity here), according to the Book of Revelation, about 1/3 of the angels rebelled and were expelled from heaven. Their disobedience meant that they preferred their own way, their own company, to God's way. And that place is called hell.
What is the chief characteristic of this “unclean spirit”? Disobedience. The unclean spirits will witness to Christ just so long as they are not supposed to. However, if Christ had wanted the unclean spirits to witness to him, they would have remained silent. The unclean spirits are afraid of Jesus' authority. They cannot withstand the power of the Lord. He has total command and they know it.
This then brings the story back to us. The angels have had their time of testing, but we are still in the middle of our test. We are not visibly aware, as a general rule, of the good and evil spirits around us, but the Lord assures us that they are here. So then we are in the midst of a test where we can be tempted by evil spirits and encouraged by good ones; we can be corrupted by our inner choices of disobedience and purified by being obedient to the voice of Christ. A good confession helps purify us from evil choices.
If the angels had only one chance to say yes or no to God because of their more perfect knowledge, we have a lifetime to make our choices. Lord, help us to always be obedient to your voice and please expel any unclean spirits that we have allowed in by the choices we have made. Amen.