They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
“Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!”The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.
The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.
Today we’re going to reflect on Jesus’ Ministry. This is the first thing Jesus did after baptism and calling the disciples and all that. Jesus did all that before he started ministry, and as he started this ministry, the scripture that we read today was the first thing Jesus did, and the first thing he taught in the synagogue. That was the first time people met this person.
When they first met Jesus they listened to His teaching, and this was their response; they were astounded at his teaching for he taught them as one having authority, not as the scribes. They immediately realized that Jesus’ teaching was different from any other kind of teaching that they used to know, like teaching of scribes, teaching of scholars or any kinds of teaching. Jesus’ teaching was somehow very different. Jesus’ teaching had authority and I’m wondering what is the difference between Jesus’ teaching or any other teaching or teachings of the scribes? That’s what I’d like to reflect on with you today.
In the Bible, Jesus and his word are very deeply, intimately connected, so intimately connected that John The Gospel says that Jesus is the word becoming flesh. When Jesus spoke his word in the synagogue, what happened? A synagogue is a small place. People gathered together and as Jesus was teaching, there was a man with an unclean spirit. A man with an unclean spirit. What is that? We don’t usually use that kind of expression, “he’s a man with an unclean spirit”. It’s hard to know what Mark meant, but I see an individual who was completely controlled by the power of darkness. He wasn’t free. He was in deep bondage. Something outside of him controlled him. He wasn’t free to be able to do whatever he wanted, some outside force controlled his thinking, his life, and he was completely abused by this external force, by this power.
Isolation of Man
When I see this man, I see loneliness, isolation, the void of life he experienced. Emptiness surrounded by absurdity, out of focus, estrangement from reality, an endless struggle. I see all these things in this man who is tortured by some kind of force outside of him, but as I look at that, I realize that’s what modern people are. That’s what modern people complain about. All of us. That’s what we complain about. This story is not just about one man, whether he was a man with an unclean spirit or not, what we experience and what this man experienced was very similar. So this is not just a story about this poor man, this is a story about all of us. This story’s about the predicament of human beings, both ancient and modern. When the word of God came to him, something wonderful happened to this man.
Mark said, “and the unclean spirit throwing him into the conversions and crying with a loud voice came out of him and the unclean spirit came out of it.” He was released from the power that controlled him, oppressed him, and took life out of him, and I believe that this is the difference between Jesus’ teaching and any other teaching.
Jesus’ teaching was to separate the darkness and drive out the darkness. That was Jesus’ teaching.
The teachings of the scribes swore to accumulate knowledge for a given person. Jesus’ teaching was to take out. Not to add on. That was the difference between Jesus’ teaching in any other teaching. Often, we think that when you learn something, you learn new information and new things. You accumulate knowledge, you accumulate all the information in you, but Jesus’ teaching was not to accumulate. Jesus’ teaching was to take out what is unnecessary within us that enslaves us. That was Jesus’ teaching. Two totally different directions. One is to take out, the other is to add on. Jesus did not come to this world to add more. Jesus’ teaching was not about adding more information and knowledge to what was already given. They said, this is a new teaching, but in Jesus’ teaching there was nothing new. Jesus only spoke about what the Old Testament already talked about. Jesus did not add any new information. Jesus always quoted and used the Old Testament. Jesus Christ came to this world not to add more, but to drive out what bound the world. Real teaching is not about adding more knowledge and more power. Real teaching is about freeing us from things that enslave us. If you want to add more to your life, you will lose it. But if you let go of what you have already, you’ll find life. That’s what Jesus taught us. You want to have life, you’ll lose it. You let go of your life, you’ll find it. Real teaching is to help us to let go of what we hold onto without realizing how enslaving that is.
The most powerful culprit that enslaves us, like this man with an unclean spirit is more. More power, more money, more control, more pleasure, more me. The more you want to have it, the more you’ll be enslaved. Our problem is not about having more or adding more. Now we have much more than 50 years ago. We have all the information we want at our fingertips. Within a few seconds you can find even what used to be top secret and within a few seconds, you’ll get all that information as you want, but are we better? Are we freer? I see more people struggling with their life. I see more people being enslaved. I see more depression, I see more problems. I see more unhappiness. We have more and yet we are in a war situation. What kind of teaching is that? Our problem is not having more. People accumulate knowledge and they are proud of how much they have or how much they know, and yet nothing much changes in them and they know it.
No matter what I do, somehow, I don’t change. I’m not really free. I’m not really happy. We know, and we have much more than what we used to, but our feeling of isolation, loneliness, abandonment, and emptiness is more severe than ever before. The answer is not in having more, but human beings keep pursuing more, somehow hoping that having more will heal us and give us freedom. Let me tell you, that’s brainwashing by materialism, by modern society. You have this, you will be happier. You know this, you’ll be happier. That’s a lie. It’s brainwashing by this culture. Having more is better. That’s not how Jesus saw life. Jesus came to take things out of us rather than adding more. In the process of having more, our soul becomes totally incapacitated that our will cannot even change a small, bad habit. We don’t have the power to change even a small bad habit. We’re completely controlled by these things and we don’t know what to do.
We have become so powerless. Jesus empowered us by taking out what is unnecessary within us. His teaching deeply penetrates into our soul and frees us from things that enslave us. Jesus sees very well how enslaved we are. Jesus sees the human condition very well. What we need is not the power to accumulate, but the power to snap us out of this deep predicament. What we need is a teaching that breaks apart the power the controls us against our will and against God.
In Mark, a special word is used; schizo. It means to separate, split, or divide. Of course, the word schizophrenia came from there, but schizo itself is not necessarily a bad word. Schizo means it breaks apart. When Jesus was baptized, the heaven was separated, that’s schizo. When Jesus died on the cross, the curtain was schizo. It was split, and that was Jesus’ teaching. Jesus’ teaching splits the darkness from us and drives out that darkness. As Jesus tore apart the unclean spirit from the man, Jesus came to tear apart the darkness from us. That is the power of Jesus’ teaching and in that sense Jesus’ teaching was very, very different from others’ teaching. I saw that. In Bible Studies, at the retreat I saw the power of darkness being split and coming out of people and they experienced freedom and empowerment. New empowerment. The empowerment of not having more, but empowerment of being free.
What darkness is enslaving us? Greed? Anger? Pride and stubbornness? Petty, dirty desire? You can be free with the teaching of Jesus Christ. I believe that there’s nothing in the world that can heal you. Only Jesus’ teaching can heal us in a true sense.