In Mark’s Gospel (which we read on Sundays this year), Jesus spends much time combating evil spirits. In the time of Jesus, people really believed in evil demons or forces. Personal or familial misfortune, illness, disfigurement, eccentric behavior…all these were seen as evidence of demonic possession. Good normal people stayed far away from those poor unfortunates lest they too become victims of demonic possession. Even Jesus authoritative way of preaching was seen by some as evidence of possession.
These evil forces were the source of enormous – even paralyzing – fear. What Jesus does is to liberate people from their fears. It was not the evil spirit that was the problem so much as the victim’s fear of that spirit. It is not objective reality that limits our freedom and effectiveness but the way it is seen by us. For example, many people have an extreme fear of snakes, even if it be a perfectly harmless garden snake. Some have a great fear of going to the dentist. The problem is not the snake or the dentist … the problem is our often-irrational fear.
Probably the single greatest irrational fear most humans have is: “What will others think!” Talk about being in the grip of a demon that dominates and controls your life!! It can become so ingrained in us that we get to the point where it influences our every thought, word, and action.
Much of my own life was spent living up to what I thought were peoples’ expectations. If I didn’t live up to them, I feared misunderstanding, rejection, put-downs, etc. It took a major depression (another example of “demonic possession”) for me to learn this, but ultimately, what can people do to me if I don’t behave like they want me to? It can’t be any worse than that depression, for darn sure. By God’s grace and skilled healers, I feel very free to be myself in thought, word and deed, even if it provokes reactions ranging from “tsk’s-tsks” to outright exclusion. If folks prefer that I speak and act according to their “should’s, oughts’s and musts”… well …too bad. Been there, done that. Ain’t worth it.
Why do you think those whom Jesus freed from their evil spirits were so happy! They were free now to do what they really wanted to do, to be the kind of person they really wanted to be. Even more important, they become the life-givers our world so desperately needed–and still needs.
Be God’s smile for someone today!
Fr. Herb, C.S.C.