(Deer crossing the road in Michigan, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
(Originally written for Speaking to the Soul, Sunday, July 15, 2012)
Daily Office readings for Sunday, July 15, 2012:
Psalm 148, 149, 150 (Morning)
Psalm 114-115 (Evening)
Mark 1:21-27 (NRSV:)
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, convulsing him 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.”
You know, I've hardly ever seen just one deer when one runs across the highway.
Northeast Missouri is simply crazy thick with deer these days, and preventing car-deer accidents can be a major part of an early morning or early evening drive. One of the things we train ourselves to do around here is, if a deer runs across the road, to start looking in the direction of where the deer came from, and get a visual bead on just how many more deer are liable to run across the road.
Like the legions of deer around here, it's striking that is what we also see in the man in our Gospel. Mark's Gospel states that the man is possessed by an unclean spirit, but when the spirit reveals itself and has voice, it's clear it is not just a solo entity but a collective. The other thing strikingly clear in this story is that this embodied form of evil knows God on sight, and is quite understanding that God's power trumps any power it might have. It knows from moment one God has the power to toss it from this poor tormented man.
Yet we see it puff up and hiss at Jesus all the same, and it's kind of scary.
The nature of change is that it IS scary--not necessarily that the changes are bad (in the case of the man in our story, being emptied of uncleanliness and filled with the Holy Spirit is definitely, in the long view, a good thing,) but I'm sure for this unfortunate man there was a resignation and a familiarity coexisting with his legion of unclean spirits. To change without being able to envision the end result would be near-impossible. Yet when Jesus shows up, change happens--ready or not.
Finding room for new possibilities before change occurs doesn't just challenge us at an individual level--it's something we've just recently seen being wrestled with at General Convention. Human nature being what it is, our tendency is to reveal them and name them in everyone else (which can feel rather satisfying at times,) but also allows us to put on blinders to our own unclean spirits. As the Twelve Step community likes to say, "Denial ain't just a river in Egypt." The ones we can bring ourselves to name, we often oddly tend to prefer resignedly living with them in an uncomfortable coexistence, or we don't look at them too long for fear that, like those deer running out on the highway, we might see more where that came from. We have places to go and things to do. Looking at them too long could slow us down, and rather than let them cross our path, we speed up and hope we can get past them and not have to worry about them. If they do manage to hit our car, we blame them. After all, they shouldn't have been out in the road, right? Never mind we didn't bother to look hard enough to see them.
Also, human nature is to bristle at change, to flare up, and to bluff a certain level of invincibility--but when we do this, we are already subconsciously recognizing it has more power than we do, whether we admit it or not--and much like change in real life, our Gospel story does not tell us what happened to this man after he had been healed. Other than the occasional immediate reaction to the change, the ultimate outcomes of the people healed by Jesus are lost to us. If we knew, would we approve? Would we like the story less or better? Would we pass judgment on its efficacy?
What we are told, however, is that those in attendance were amazed--and perhaps that is the crux of the message of all healing stories. Healing doesn't just change the recipient, it changes those in attendance.
How have you been changed by the healing of someone else?