Sunday, February 1, 2015

Put On the Armor of Christ

In St. John’s gospel, Our Lord calls Satan “ruler of this world,”teaching that the salvation he would bring us as God’s gift involved the destruction of Satan’s power in this world. Just before His passion, Jesus told the apostles that an eternal fire awaited Satan and his angels. Sacred Scripture teaches that The Prince of Darkness will be allowed by God to test us for a time, but in the end will be “thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”  Thus, in Catholic teaching, the reality of spiritual warfare, though often dismissed, is something the Church Militant here on earth must be prepared for. Paul Thigpen offers a manual for preparation in the video above. Very experienced, he!

Now for a little catechesis on today;s Gospel by Fr. Longenecker:

Then they came to Capernaum,
and on the sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and taught.
The people were astonished at his teaching,
for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.
In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit;
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!”
Jesus rebuked him and said,
“Quiet! Come out of him!”
The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him.
All were amazed and asked one another,
“What is this?
A new teaching with authority.
He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.”
His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.
The Gospel reading is taken from the Gospel of Mark. Here we read about Jesus' activity in Capernaum, a place that apparently becomes the functional headquarters of his Galilean ministry. 

The crowds were astonished at his teaching for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes. The Greek word here translated "authority" can also mean "power". Jesus teaches with "power"--a kind of power not associated with the scribes. 

This power is demonstrated by Jesus' action of casting out a demon, described here as an "unclean spirit". The term is used for fallen angels in 1 Enoch 6-11. The exorcism leads some to describe Jesus as offering a "new" teaching. What exactly is "new" about his teaching though is unclear. 

Some have suggested that Jesus is said to not teach like the scribes do because he does not refer to the opinion of other respected teachers; he bases his teaching on his own authority. Something similar may be seen in Jesus' exorcism. Adela Yarbro Collins notes that Mark's portrait of Jesus' exorcisms may be contrasted with what is found in the exorcistic practices described in the Dead Sea Scrolls, particularly the fragment identified as 4Q560.
This text is evidence for the practice of exorcism in the cultural context of the historical Jesus. The means is verbal, as in Mark, but the exorcist in 4Q560 adjures the demon “by the Name of Him who forgives sins and transgression” (4Q560 1:4) whereas Mark’s Jesus does not call upon the name of God as he casts out demons. (Mark, p. 167)
In fact, whereas other exorcisms seemed to be performed only through the use of various incantations, Jesus' simple response immediately drives him out: Quiet! Come out of him! In fact, the Greek term,phimōthēti, actually can be translated, "Be muzzled!" All of this further underscores Jesus' unique power.

In fact, elsewhere in the New Testament Jesus is described as explaining how he casts out demons "by the finger of God" (Luke 11:20). The language here recalls the Exodus. Upon seeing the plagues wrought by Moses, the Egyptian magicians concede, "This is the finger of God."

Before being sent out, the demon identifies Jesus as "the Holy One of God". This scene sets in motion a major motif that is well-recognized in the Gospel of Mark: the "messianic secret". Demons appear to recognize that Jesus is the Messiah and yet Jesus does not want the truth of his identity revealed. Why? The most likely answer is that Jesus is concerned that his messiahship will be misconstrued and therefore his mission misunderstood. Jesus has not come as a political messiah. His victory is not primarily to be achieved militarily but spiritually. 

The enemy Jesus comes to conquer is Satan. Jesus' exorcistic ministry is a sign of this. Mark portrays Moses in terms that identify him as the fulfillment of Deuteronomy 18; Jesus is the "prophet like unto Moses" who brings about a New Exodus. He does not deliver his people from Pharaoh, but from Satan. 

And he does all of this by virtue of his unique divine power. 

One last element I'd like to mention. Interestingly, the unclean spirit calls Jesus, "the Holy One of God". Notably, that is actually not the term used for Moses; it is actually evocative of the language used for the high priest, Aaron. For example, see Psalm 106:16, which describes how some men of Israel were jealous of "Aaron, the holy one of the Lord". Numbers 16:7 also describes Aaron as the "holy one" chosen by God. 

Jesus is the true priest. This Sunday, as we celebrate the liturgy of the eucharist, we reflect on the way his power drives out demons--and we encounter that power through the Church's worship. Let us go to him, confident that he will free us from the power of the evil one through the sacrifice he has made of himself.