DT 18: 15-20; I Corinth 7: 32-35; Mark 1: 21-28
I attended the retreat day for the Northeast Catholic Community and one of the main themes that you hear is how attached we become to these buildings where we come to pray and worship. Rightfully so…from birth to death, this is where we gather; it holds a great deal of memories for us and it’s hard to let go. This is nothing new. If you read back even into the Book of Exodus, you hear the same struggle between God and the people. There is always this tension of going to a particular place to experience God, while at the same time, God’s trying to break the mold and into the world. When we hold onto it, we sometimes begin to lose the essence of it, of the sacred space and what’s inside. We start to miss the symbolic nature of this building beyond the walls and the memories, the symbolism of our own sacred space, the very depths of our souls, when we gather here.
Now flash forward to the readings we hear this weekend. One of the common themes of Mark’s Gospel, and I dare say our own lives, is there is constant movement from in and out of different places. Today they aren’t in just any old place, they are in the synagogue of Capernaum. When we hear that Jesus and the disciples are inside, our ears should perk up because something different is about to take place. There will be a lesson of sorts for the disciples. Ironically, what they encounter in this sacred space is a man with an unclean spirit. The last thing we think we would find in this sacred space is an unclean spirit, and yet, they do and we do. There is a continuous breakdown of the separation of sacred and profane space to simply sacred space, in which even unclean spirits can dwell. Notice also that the unclean spirit does not speak in the singular. The spirit says, “What have you to do with us? Have you come to destroy us?” But Jesus isn’t going to be intimidated by such spirits but he isn’t there to destroy them either. The challenge for us humans is, we become accustomed to the unclean spirits, holding onto our own memories, hurts and all, in our own souls, our sacred space, in you and me, to the point where we begin to identify with them. We begin to identify with our sin rather than the grace and spirit of God. When they encounter Christ and when we begin to live through Christ, the unclean spirits begin to lose our grip on them, we identify less with them, and we begin to live out of the place of grace and be led by the Spirit of God.
I do believe Moses found that place. We talk about him never getting to the Promise Land, and maybe not physically crossing into the Land, but Moses found it within himself. He found that sacred space and also battled the unclean spirits, the false prophets from within; he had to have in his life. He could not have done what he did in leading the people if he did not do his work and find his true essence as a person and who he was created. His journey is our journey, of cleansing and letting go of what holds us back from living life to the fullest. He warns people Israel today that they too must take the same journey and will encounter false prophets along the way, their own unclean spirits. Don’t become identified with them; they will not lead to holiness and wholeness. They will pass and when they begin to crack, the facade they create, God’s grace and the true prophetic voice will once again lead the way to the Promised Land in the beyond and within.
I do believe it’s the anxiety that Paul speaks of in his continued letter to the Corinthians. He kind of throws all of us under the bus today in that we all have our worries, but we also begin to identify with those worries. They have a way of taking over our own sacred space and we begin to live out of a different place and trust a different voice, the voice of the unclean spirits within. We keep doing the same thing over and over again, holding onto what was and the memories begin to take hold. Healing is where he tries to lead the people of Corinth, a life of reconciliation and surrender. We become, as he states, worried about pleasing the other, thinking our life depends upon it, while failing to please God and living as if that’s all that matters; a life in the fullness of the Lord.
From the confines of these walls to the confines of our souls, if that is even possible, the unclean spirits exist and we spend our lives discerning these spirits and identifying which are unclean and which are of God, Holy. They aren’t meant to be destroyed, but simply to be let go and set free as when they encounter Christ today, the true prophetic voice. When we try to do it ourselves, they only consume us all the more. It can only happen with an encounter with the divine from the very depths of our souls and seeing them from the place of grace. Only the divine can help loosen their grip on us and loosen their grip on our identity that we can live from the sacred space and be led by the Spirit of God. We pray for the awareness of those spirits in our lives and community. We pray for a break in the facade. We pray, as with Moses, and certainly the strength of not being intimidated in Christ, that we may live our lives from our true identity, from and within the divine indwelling of our very heart and soul leading to the Promised Land and a fullness of life today.