The first chapter of Mark's gospel is a tour de force. It starts out with Jesus appearing out of nowhere for baptism and then goes through a series of transitions all joined up with the word "immediately." Last week's "immediately" saw Jesus calling James and John, which leads us this week to Capernaum and the synagogue on the Sabbath.
The synagogue back then was less of a worship space and more of a study center and it's in that place that we find Jesus expounding his teaching. Verse 22 says, "he taught them as one having authority, not as the scribes." This isn't a swipe at the scribes, but a signal that something unexpected will follow. It's a statement that this rabbi preferred to speak on his own authority without relying on the precedent of other learned rabbis.
The real action happens when a man with 'an unclean spirit' challenges Jesus: "I know who you are, the Holy One of God." The spirit actually recognizes reality and doesn't leave its host without a fight, either. Small wonder: that demon probably began its days as a small voice within the man that grew and overtook the real spirit with which he was born.
In other words, the demon was probably a small lie that got "stuck" on him and festered, leaving the man unsure of his own identity. That demon knows that once it's out of its host, it doesn't have a chance against the authentic spirit in the man, the one that God put there to begin with. Jesus, whose spirit has recently been tested in the desert, knows this lie for what it is and tells it bluntly, "SHUT UP AND GET LOST!"
Let's face facts: there are demons and we all have them. There are the societal demons like consumerism that tell us to go out and 'shop till we drop.' There are those other demons that tell us we're not good enough or successful enough unless we achieve something. Or take the related personal demons of low self-esteem and intolerance. Now there are two dandies! Both come from the same insecure place. One tells us we're no good and the other that we're better than everyone else. We might know that they're both lies but feed them anyway. On one extreme under their spell, we convince ourselves that our authentic selves are nothing but a waste of space; on the other extreme, we can let that inauthentic self out of its cage to create horrific genocide.
Oh those demons! The trouble with demons is that they all lie to us and lies never have any real authority on their own. To put it another way, they have absolutely no authenticity. As this reading from Mark shows, real authority is almost always concrete; it comes with actions that expose those inauthentic demons for what they are.
Jesus’ authority came from a sense of his authenticity; He knew who he was and whose he was. That is the challenge of this short reading to all of us: to go 'inside' with prayer and meditation to bring those 'demons' out to the light of day. Once dislodged from us though, we need to be careful: they will fight back and try to replant themselves and obscure our own sense of authenticity. But that's the way demons are; they never leave gracefully, do they? While they shriek at us and wiggle on the pavement, just remember: God doesn't make junk.