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"What Do You Want With Us, Jesus of Nazareth?"

January 11, 2011

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The first miracle recounted by Mark is significantly an exorcism, a sign that in the presence of Jesus, the power of evil is reduced to impotence. In the ancient world, sickness was understood as being in thrall to evil spirits. This is why many of Jesus’s miracles are described in terms of exorcisms. A common feature of such miracle stories is to exaggerate the symptoms of the afflicted one, as in this case, where the evil spirits, speaking through the mouth of the victim, identify Jesus and challenge him. It’s not a question of acknowledging Jesus’s divinity here. It’s just that the demons recognize that they are in the presence of a holy person, a man filled with God’s spirit, who will surely destroy them. Again, in the ancient world, to know someone’s name was to have magical power over him. The demons seek to frighten Jesus by declaring his name. Jesus says but two sentences to the evil spirits: “Be silent! Come out of him.” And the spirits leave the possessed man with a loud scream, throwing the man into convulsions. The crowd is astonished beyond measure. Their own exorcists had lengthy rituals to expel demons and even then they were often unsuccessful. But Jesus is different. “He speaks with authority,” they said. “When he gives orders, even the spirits obey.” For the first time, but certainly not for the last, this obscure rabbi from Galilee has a way about him which makes others sit up and take note. As word of mouth spreads the news about this cure, simultaneously another question is bandied around: who can he be?
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