Monday, January 30, 2012

Welcoming Strangers? (Epiphany 4 Year B)

They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘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.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’ At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
Mark 1:21-28.
What does that word convey to you?
What springs to mind when you hear the word demon?
Today the reading in Mark is about Jesus’ encounter with a man possessed by a demon (unclean spirit) which he cast out. The author of Mark placed this story right at the beginning of the gospel . . . setting the stage to show Jesus’ authority.
However, today, I don’t want to think about authority I want to think more about demons and welcoming those who are different.
The scriptures are full of demons. So is our world, a popular work of fiction is entitled Angels and Demons. In our culture there is continuous fight between good and evil. The idea grips everyone regardless of religious persuasion. Video games and Hollywood are full of it.
What do we make of demons in Jesus’ time?
It is fairly clear when we read the accounts of demon possession throughout the gospels that we would perceive many of the situations differently. If the events happened in the twenty-first century we would see people with epilepsy. We would recognize people with various physical and mental illnesses. We would not immediately talk about demons. Our society would like to think that we would seek medical and psychiatric help for the people.
When I read the story in Mark the thing I noticed and started to ponder was that this “demon-possessed” man was in the synagogue.  I also thought of the use “us” as he talked to Jesus. This passage has often been interpreted as meaning there were multiple demons in the man. Yet, I wonder if it wasn’t multiple people. Perhaps the “demon-possessed” man was speaking for a small group of outcasts. Outcasts who were in the synagogue hoping for help, healing and acceptance.
We will never know for certain . . . that is just the image I have. A small band of outcasts lurking in the Synagogue.  Perhaps they became concerned as they listened to Jesus’ teaching. Worried they would have to leave the synagogue. Their experience led them to expect scorn and rejection. Instead Jesus offered healing.
I wonder if things are much different now. We may not talk about demons as readily, yet how do we treat the outcasts? Have things really changed? Or do “outcasts” still lurk in corners hoping for help, healing and acceptance?
Statistics show that people with mental illnesses fill the prisons. Of all youth leaving foster care between a quarter and a third end up on the streets homeless. (Just Google the various categories) Also see
And mental illness/homelessness is just the tip of the iceberg when we talk about those society may consider outcasts.
I have no answers just a couple of questions for reflection.
How can we be as Christ to those perceived by society as “outcasts”?
How can we hold out help, healing and acceptance?
How can we welcome strangers?
+Ab. Jane