On most Sundays, I publish a brief Sunday Lesson. It’s nothing more than an observation or an idea or useful application from something I’m studying. I feel deeply blessed and deeply responsible for writing this. I schedule the posts to publish at 1:35. Don’t worry about the time: you can sign up to receive a notification any time I publish something. I’m up for all comments and try to respond to them all. Be forewarned that I reserve Sundays for my family. It’s a work in progress, but a goal we’re all growing into. So, if I don’t respond, I’m probably playing chess with my daughter or watching lousy TV with my wife. On an outstanding day, I might catch a couple innings of Braves baseball. With my wife, of course. It’s Sunday.
This isn’t a lesson as much as an observation. I’m reading through Mark, a chapter or a few verses at a time, and am always shocked at the number of demoniacs who confront Jesus. Everywhere He goes it seems, He’s crowded by dozens or hundreds or thousands of people, and the writers of the Synoptics are always wont to explain that smack in the middle of what ever mess He’s dealing with, a man comes along to throw himself headlong at Jesus’ feet to scream “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the holy one of G!” Jesus always rebukes the demon to be quiet because it’s not His time yet. The demon flees, often with loud noises and all kinds of shaking, and things calm down again. Very weird to this modern reader.
I see several possible reasons for this.
One is that it’s the real deal. At least in early Christian Palestine, demons appear to take up residence in people all the time. I want to say that it wasn’t a big deal, but being routinely tossed bodily into a fire at the demon’s whim doesn’t sound like fun. It doesn’t sound real to me either, and, since we’re all living with images of viruses, I’ll use the ebola virus for an explanation.
Evolutionists talk about influenza as a smart virus. It calls youy body home for just a little while, replicates like a mad drunk, it evolves to return again next season, and you remain standing, ready to play host again during the next round. If you’re looking for a selfish bit of protein, this is it. It’s shouted in the daily news now that the morbidity rate hovers at around 2%.
Ebola, on the other hand, especially when it was first noticed in the 1970s, is especially virulent. Researchers called this a dumb virus. It infiltrates a host, replicates and breaks the host until they dies in a puddle on the jungle floor. Usually in a couple of days.
One is smart because it only uses enough of the host’s resources to keep itself moving forward. Proteins don’t have goals but, if this one did, it would be to cause as little hurt as possible and to maintain a clean house for the next year.
Ebola is dumb precisely because it’s so virulent. Its initial morbidity rate was 50-90%. In these cases, where the host dies so quickly and with tell-tale symptoms, ebola dies with it. Dumb.
I think the same things when I read about these demoniacs. I’m not sure what powers of manipulation they had, but wouldn’t it be smarter to stay away and help your host to be successful? To live a long life? I think of Al Pacino in the movie The Devil’s Advocate, a demon who, frankly, knows how to party. He’s not shouting at church or making a spectacle of throwing himself in fire. He’s doing a fancy waltz and clapping to Iberian guitars while choosing who to take home that night.
These demons, then, jumping from every dark corner, don’t strike me as real.
I say that with a twinge, though, a knowing that I’m inflicting my modern, Western, scientific thoughts onto a world far away in both location and time. I say here in the Sunday Lessons that I want to clarify what was said and what was understood and stay away from the what this really means…but here I am doing exactly that.
On one side, I see another possibility, a kind of passive-aggressive possibility. Imagine if you are buying a house with a Realtor. They take you to a showing, and the neighbor shows up. “Great house!” they shout. “Great neighborhood! Man. You’ve got a great Realtor! You’re a dope it you don’t buy it!”
If you’re like me, you will probably pull back to the car with the Realtor, lock the doors, and make plan to come back. The entire effort could be thwarted by this guy living next door. The domons act just like this in the gospels and it’s never for Jesus. “Have you come to cast us away?” they shout. “We know who you are! The son of the living God,” they say. Jesus already knows this – none of it is for Him – but I wonder how many people would turn away from this show?
The other side of this same coin is that Satan keeps coming out of the woodwork around the Son of the Living G, like cockroaches emerge from the baseboard in your bathroom after the bug guy leaves. Guilt and evil and wrongdoing are highlighted by the mercy and righteousness of Christ.
The real reason we see these demons and demoniacs, I think, is wrapped up in the purpose of the gospels. They were written by writers with a message, who had something to say, to present Jesus in a certain light. Matthew is Jewish and writes for Jewish people, and his gospel is steeped with references they would be familiar with and would make sense to their cultural worldview. My Jerusalem Bible, in the introduction to Mark, says that Mark focused not on Jesus’ teaching, but on the mystery of his person. Luke tels us himself that he writes a reasoned and researched account of eyewitness stories about Jesus.
I think of Mark’s purpose regarding demons. In Mark 3 Jesus is indeed presented as mysterious, a man who isn’t shocked when demons and demoniacs appear, but tells them to be quiet and shout nothing about Himself. In Mark we see One who has the power to hold up his hands and call for rocks to rain down. Instead, we see Him turn to his followers, hapless chaps that they are, and preach the word, to proclaim that G is come.
This is a dense and foggy topic, but I can pull one piece of wisdom from it that applies to the gospels as a whole and to your own life: when you step down on the right path, your destiny, enemies will come out of the woodwork. Take care.
By way of explanation, I label myself as an agnostic Christian. I attend a Southern Baptist church and am comfortable with Roman Catholic and Orthodox theology and all kinds of Protestant thought. For Bibles, I generally use the Jerusalem Bible, the English Standard Version, and the Amplified Bible. A favorite verse is Micah 6:8 where the prophet says:
G has already told you what is right and what to do: do what is right, love loyalty, and walk humbly with G.