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It’s often that I feel lost, or that I experientially “get” what Paul said when he wrote “I do the things I don’t want to do, and what I want to do I don’t do” (Romans 7). In my anger, bitterness, hurt, fear or elation I do what I wouldn’t usually, I can become what I’m not. This week’s scripture addresses that paralysis and Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde-ness that we all have experienced.
These few verses are rich with word ideas and meanings:
v 23 “unclean spirit” – this is the language used in traditional Judaism to denote a demonic possession. Often the Rabbis used the term “spirit of uncleanness.” The word Spirit (pneumos – like pneumonia in English) means “spirit,” “wind” and “breath” When we talk of the Holy Spirit in the Bible is it the “Holy” pneumos.
v24 scholars say you can translate this phrase in two ways: “What cause of enmity is there between us?” and “What do we have in common?” It seems like this unclean spirit is trying to control Jesus, to contain him.
v24 In the earliest writings of the gospel there was no punctuation so you can read this sentence as either a question : “Have you come to destroy us?” or a statement “You have come to destroy us!”
v24 the unclean spirit calls Jesus the “Holy One of God” – interestingly the word “holy” also means “clean.” The root meaning of holiness is separation from the profane realm, this profane and evil age. Jesus thus has a “holy” or “clean” spirit/breath/wind; the opposite of the “unclean spirit.” An unclean spirit is one that has been un-made from the image of God.
v27 Why are the people awestruck? Why do the people present now proclaim his unique authority?
In the scripture Jesus is dramatically contrasted with an unclean spirit. One is filled with holy breath, like God breathed into creation in Genesis 1:27. The demon has an unclean breath. It’s a twisted and deformed version of what God originally created. Jesus has come to exorcise and subvert that part of God’s creation what has been twisted or made unclean. The people who witness this contrast the amazing authority of Jesus with the impression made by the teaching of the scribes (who will turn out to be the main opponents to the teaching of Jesus in the Gospel). Why is this the first story of a miraculous encounter that Mark chooses to place in his telling of the gospel? The others gospels don’t start this way. What is Mark trying to underline about Jesus?
Questions for going deeper: