People of Israel, before entering into the Promised Land were instructed by Moses about the statutes and laws they need to obey. God promised them through Moses, that God will raise up a prophet like Moses who will be their mediator between God and them. God was promising them that there will always be someone to fill Moses’ prophetic role. The prophet is self- appointed but chosen and raised up by God. He will speak to them God’s message. We know that the people of Israel began to worship false gods and totally forgot about God who provided them with daily food, and who accompanied them in their forty years of desert life. The hard journey is over and the land of milk and honey is going to be cushy in comparison. The people won’t need the daily manna with which God fed them as they traveled through the desert. They are liable then to forget how their daily survival relied totally on God.
The reading has a valuable message for us that when we go through a crisis or a problem we increase our prayers and our need for God grows more intense. Then, when we have passed through our desert things go back to “normal” and God seems to take a backseat in our awareness. Other issues press in on us so we turn our attention elsewhere.
Jesus in the synagogue teaches “as one having authority.” Unlike the scribes, who relied for their authority on the teachings of their predecessors and would begin by saying; “as Moses says,” Jesus said, “But I say to you.” People noted the difference. As a sign of his authority Jesus addresses the unclean spirit and drives it out. Jesus shows that he is exercising the very power of God. “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not so short that it cannot save; nor is His ear so dull that it cannot hear.” (Isaiah59:1). His power is manifested among the believers so that they can accept the reign of God’s presence.
Jesus casts out the unclean spirits that possessed a man in the synagogue. Like anyone else the man came to the temple pretending to be a worshipper, but his mind was filled with the unclean spirits. Externally he looked good and no one else could distinguish him as the one who had an ulterior motive. No one else could realize that he had unclean spirits. He felt quite comfortable among the worshippers, until he recognized the presence of Jesus. Then he cried out “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?”
Sometime when we attend the liturgy with only our physical presence and without our spiritual and mental presence we can be like the man who was possessed with unclean spirits. The devil is an unclean spirit because he acts in direct opposition to the Spirit of God. He is patient and waits for the opportune time to strike. He can also disrupt the liturgy by seeking the attention of every one or even by distracting those who are attentive. The use of cell phones, irreverence in the church, silent observer’s attitude without participation in the liturgy; especially without saying the prayers and joining the congregation in singing, being distracted and disinterested, we can let the unclean spirit dwell in our minds. We need to cast them off from our minds. The Holy water at the entrance of the church is kept so that we can sign ourselves with the sign of the cross and ask the Lord to free us from all distractions and evil thoughts, and thus we can prepare well to celebrate the Eucharist. The message of Christ made the man possessed to be upset and he retorted. The word of God challenged the man. Likewise the word of God challenges people, shakes them, and helps them to be freed from the power of the evil one.
The existence of the evil forces in our world today is a reality. Evil spirits can enter into and possess people, causing all kinds of sicknesses, diseases and using them to do all that is evil. The Bible records many occasions when Jesus healed those who were tormented by these spirits. The unjust sufferings brought up on the humanity, killing of the innocents, manipulation of the young minds, constant lying, victims of various sorts of addiction, like drugs, sex, alcohol, foul behaviors, spirit of fear, divination, spirit of error, jealousy, spirit of haughtiness, slumber and infirmity, etc. are some of the long lists we can find in the Bible. Certainly, we too need to be freed from the unclean spirits that dwell in us in one form or another.
“The peace of the soul would be much greater and sweeter if there were no noise around her, nor occasion given of stirring herself either in body or mind, for she would greatly wish to be solely occupied in the sweetness of this divine presence” St. Francis de Sales(Love of God)