Sun, Jan 28, 2018

Exorcising our demons


I had stuffed it up again!

Once again, I had gotten really nervous and I fluffed it.

It was the third time that I had failed the test for my driver's licence.

Each time, it had started well.

I had mastered the important stuff--

like the reverse parking and the hill starts.

But, towards the end of the test, I would do something dumb...

because I was nervous...

because I wasn't taking everything in.

On that third attempt... 

I didn't notice that the lights at the school crossing were flashing...

so I didn't slow down, and I failed.

As a sixteen year old male, it was a huge trauma...

because all of the other boys in my class at school had their licence--

or so it seemed--

and if there's one thing in the world that matters to a teenager it's fitting in.

After being told that I had failed yet again, I remember I just sat in the car, stunned.

I couldn't bear to think what would happen if my class-mates found out.

Of course, they did find out--


and, from that point on, life at school was hell. 

All I had to do... 

was to stick up my hand to answer a teacher's question...

and, inevitably, it would come--

some smart-aleck comment from behind me...

followed by another...

and the whole class would be laughing at me.

And heaven help me if I got the answer wrong!

Then, in physical-education class, I would get picked on.

Not that I was beaten up--

not as such--

but I did end up in the mud a lot.

And it wasn't helped by the fact that I wasn't very good at sport--

certainly, I wasn't good at cricket or football--

and this was a boys' school deeply proud of its sporting heritage...

having produced numerous league footballers and test-cricketers.

So, being able to play cricket or football was all that really seemed to matter.

All of which means that I wasn't just a laughing stock... 

I was also on the outer--

not part of the in-crowd.

I didn't fit in and I didn't belong.


Have you ever had an experience like that?

Have you ever felt like you were "different"--

that you didn't measure up to people's expectations...

that you didn't fit in...

that you didn't belong?


The first century world was very different from our own--

and I don't just mean the absence of computers and cars...

or that they didn't understand about science or medicine in the way that we do.

It was very different culturally and psychologically.

Back then, people were not introspective.

They didn't worry about inner feelings or self-awareness.

Rather, they were conditioned to concentrate on externals.

They believed that you could, indeed, know someone by the way that they looked.

They had elaborate rules for determining character based on appearance.

They saw and thought in terms of stereotypes--

and no one questioned it.

You were who people said that you were.

And who you were and how you were expected to behave were determined by how you looked--

your appearance and your features--

and the sort of family into which you were born...

where you were born...

your gender...

and your family's occupation.


In our story from Mark's Gospel this morning,

we meet a character--

a man.

We're not told his name or where he's from.

All that we know about him is that he's described as having an "unclean spirit".

Within the world-view of the first century--

within their understanding of the human person and human behaviour--

that's a way of saying that he was someone who didn't behave as expected.

He's someone who didn't behave as he ought to--

given how he looked...

where he came from...

what he did...

and who they perceived him to be.

It was as if he had another 'person' inside of him...

making him behave strangely...

making him transgress important norms and values.

Because that's what it meant to call someone "possessed"--

it was their way of saying that someone's behaviour was inappropriate--

grossly inappropriate.

It was simply their way of trying to explain it...

according to the way that they understood how the world worked.

To call someone "possessed" was to make a statement about their place in society:

that they weren't normal...

and they didn't fit in.

And, within their way of thinking...

anyone who didn't behave as expected...

anyone who didn't fit in...

was dangerous.

They were a threat to the balance and order of the community.

So they were treated accordingly.

Normally, it meant that they were marginalised...

excluded from polite company...


disowned by their own families.

And, having been labelled by their community or society as "possessed"... 

then that's how they saw themselves.

Because you were who people said that you were.

Being "possessed", then, came to define them.

They would have been told that's what they were--


and over again.

And being told that they didn't fit, increasingly, they didn't.

Being told that they were possessed, increasingly, that's how they acted.


But then, in Mark's story, this man meets Jesus.

And Jesus doesn't treat him like everyone else.

He doesn't shun him or ignore him.

He doesn't tell him that he's strange.

He doesn't tell him that he doesn't belong.

Sure, our translation says that Jesus "rebuked" him. 

But that word in the Greek can also be translated as "spoke seriously to"--

it can even be translated as "showed honour to".

I think that makes more sense.

Jesus treated this man with dignity--

he didn't dismiss him or ignore him.

Having been shunned, devalued, and rejected...

treated as a non-entity--

Jesus re-defined his identity and worth.

That's what exorcism meant in the first century world.

A person with authority dared to speak on behalf of the community--

dared to say, 'you are no longer strange.

You do belong.

You are accepted.

Resume your rightful place in society'.

And, having been told that, the man does.


Today, in our culture, we no longer think of people as demon-possessed...

but there are still people who are shunned, excluded, and marginalised;

people who are told that they don't belong...

that they're not normal...

that they're not valued.

And, like this man, the more that they're told it, the more that it comes to define them.

It's even how they come to see themselves.

Because the more that you're told something-- 

or the more that you tell yourself something--

the more that it becomes true.

But this story has something else to say:

no matter how others might treat us... 

or what they might say about us;

no matter how we see ourselves--

that we don't fit in...

that we don't measure up...

that we aren't valuable--

that's not how God sees us.

As Jesus redefined this man's identity and his sense of worth...

so God redefines ours, declaring: 

you are not worthless...

you are not strange...

you are not useless.

You are valued, welcomed, and loved.

And, perhaps, if we learned to tell ourselves that--

as we looked into the mirror each morning--

maybe we, too, could quiet the demons in our heads...

and truly live as the people that God intends us to be.

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