The divine and the demonic

18 Apr

Returning to Luke 4: but this is so very relevant!
Again we see the immediate juxtaposition of the divine and the demonic. They are right there, mixed together: in this passage, in the same person.
In the first part of the chapter, I noted that Jesus who is filled with the Spirit is also led into temptation.
Now Luke gives us a story of a person possessed by a demon, who yet names Jesus as God.
What do we make of this?

Jesus went into his home region, and taught the people.
A man possessed by an unclean demon begins to call out.
It is difficult to say, in today’s terms, exactly what we mean by this idea of ‘an unclean spirit’.
Many people simply dismiss the idea as an outmoded way of thinking. Maybe they resort to modern psychology, and suggest that such a person is experiencing what we might call a psychotic illness. I think there is some merit in this argument, and at least some element of these persons’ suffering might be understood in this way.
Others take the stories and the ideas much more literally. They suggest that there really are (not just were, but there are, today) evil spirits and that we should not deny their reality.
I have heard a number of psychiatrists, whom I would respect deeply, say that they do believe there really is such a thing as demon possession, though all the people I heard in this group have gone on to say that they have never seen a genuine ‘case’, or they have at most seen or read of one or two.
What do we make of this?
In my view, it is crucial to allow that there is something very real here.
I don’t think I can explain it—any more than I can explain the reality of God.
I think there is something real, which destroyed the peace, the relationships, and the sense of personal being and integrity of individuals.
In the social context, such people were alienated: from their families, from friends and community, from the Temple, and they were said to be rejected by God, or being punished by God.
The crucial point of Luke’s story, then, is that Jesus refused to accept this situation and leave it how it was.
The possessed man calls out to Jesus, and challenges him, saying that he (Jesus) wants to ‘destroy us’ (v.34). But this same person calls Jesus ‘the Holy One of God’.

Jesus tells the person to be quiet, and commands the spirit to come out of the man. The man experiences a violent, physical eruption, but then comes the peace which no doubt he and all his community had longed. They were amazed.

Notice here the astonishing combination of this suffering and oppression, and the words which praise Jesus as the Holy One of God.
Verses 40 and 41 which speak of Jesus healing other persons and casting out more demons, say that he did not let them speak. They call him the Son of God, and ‘they knew that he was the Messiah’.
We cannot mistake here what we saw at the very beginning of the chapter, and now again in multiple expressions: the demonic and the divine are so closely related.
What do we make of this?
Surely we need to see that Jesus, the divine one, the one in whom the divine presence and Spirit lives, intentionally and closely associates with such persons and situations. He does not choose to stand apart.
That image of holiness which suggests keeping separate and apart is not his idea of holiness. He is close to, he associates by choice with these needy people, and deals directly with their troubled lives and the spirits which know him and yet revolt against him.
Also we cannot fail to see the priorities of Jesus. He cares for these people‚ even Peter’s mother in law, who is presented as a person without a name, an anonymous one: but she is cared for, healed and restored to life.
Thirdly, we note that the chapter ends with a story akin to Mark 1, 35f, where he goes out of the area, and the disciples try to call him back to Capernaum (where he has such a good thing going, he is being a success!). But he has other things he must be doing. He has other places to go.
As with his decision to walk away from those who wanted to kill him, here again Jesus is presented as having a clear sense of his agenda, his priorities. He is baptized into mission. He will  work for the release of the captives. He will do that for which he was sent, beginning with teaching in the synagogues. 
What he teaches is about a compassionate, healing God, whose holiness does not stand apart from the people, especially those suffering oppression and condemnation. Jesus does not accept that situation. He enters the scene and acts to release the captives. This is what he teaches about God and God’s kingdom: ‘because for this purpose I have been sent’ v.43.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *