Daily Readings Reflection for 1/31/11

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Scripture: Lectionary 323. Hebrews 11:32-40. Psalm 31:20.21.22.23.24. Mark
5:1-20

Today’s Readings

This miracle of Jesus driving out the unclean spirit or spirits from a man
who roamed the hills on the eastern side of the Lake of Galilee is one of
the most powerful of exorcisms as well as one of the strangest ones that
Jesus performs. We are in the area of the Hellenistic occupiers of that
part of the lakeshore and thus several things emerge that show this. We
remember that Jesus was sent first to the House of Israel and secondly that
the swine are more likely to be the herd of a Gentile not a Jew because
swine were considered the filthiest of animals in the perception of Jewish
ritual. Moreover, we know that Mark is telling the miraculous stories of
Jesus in this section where there are four miracles and that according to
some the first part of Mark’s Gospel is about Jesus’ power over both nature
and humans infested with evil. Another argument in favor of the Gentile
mission on this occasion is that the demon(s) announces his name as Legion
( a term for six thousand soldiers). We learn again from Mark that the
Romans occupied both sides of the Lake. Mark is the Gospel that has more
“latinisms” than the other Gospels. Legio is a Latin word for this large
assembly of soldiers.

The naming of someone shows power over that person in many of the biblical
stories that have some drama about them. Here both Jesus and the demon
are aware of this. The demon uses the Gentile expression “Almighty or High
God” and then “Son of God” seemingly breaking through the so called
“messianic secret.”

Jesus calmly wins the chess game of exchanging names to overpower the other
one whether human or demonic. Only on two occasions does Jesus do
something destructive to nature and to the animal world and both are in
Mark; the cursing of the fig tree and this exorcism against the possessed
one. The man is not the one challenging Jesus; the Evil One within him is
doing this. Commentators are amazed at Mark’s thick description of this
scene and there are many creative if not fanciful interpretations of the
expulsion of the Evil One. Some go so far as to say the word Legion here
means one soldier and is the symbolic name of the demon.

Why such an unusual story? Perhaps to show that the Gentiles too are part
of the people to be saved by Jesus innate authority (exousia) and power
(dynamis). Universal salvation by Jesus is definitely a part of the Gospel;
both Jews and Gentiles are included in the redemptive actions of Jesus
especially the death of Jesus on the Cross. There may even be a shadow of
that death in the story with the mention of the man roaming and living in
the caves–places of death for the people of that time. Was Jesus born in
a cave? Was he entombed in one? If so, he had power over death and in
both his birth (Incarnation) and his death (Redemption) Jesus’ Cross is the
way to his Resurrection and ours.

Jesus is central to the scene with the demon being the antagonist and the
man the person on whom Jesus’ compassion and power would liberate from the
prince of darkness, lies,and death. We are led to have strong faith in the
supernatural powers of Jesus. The man, once liberated, calls Jesus “Lord”
and he also realizes that God has freed him from the Evil One. He listens
to Jesus and becomes an evangelizer in pagan territory not in the land of
Jesus. That would be the mission of Jesus and his apostles.

In trying to work one’s way through the different levels of the story, one
needs to be mindful of the excellent document called the “Historical Truth
of the Gospels” issued by the Pontifical Biblical Commission. Here 20 or
more of the best of Catholic exegetes gave us the following stages of
Gospel development: 1) the actual time and history of Jesus with his very
words “ipsissima verba Jesu”; 2) the time of the oral preaching about
Jesus by the first witnesses and the apostles; 3) the final inspired words
of the Evangelist written down in a Gospel genre. Only Mark, Matthew, Luke
and John have the authority to be authentic Gospel writers. Here the
apocryphal gospels have no place in the reasoning of Christian
interpretations of the earliest Gospel, that of Mark. Our present passage
may have all three levels of influence on what we have before us in both
the proclaiming of this part of the Gospel or in our personal reading of
it. We must remember when it comes to casting out demons of this sort we
had better let Jesus do it. Amen.

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