Luke 4:31-37

He went down to Capernaum, a city in Galilee, and was teaching them on the sabbath. They were astounded at his teaching, because he spoke with authority.

In the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, “Let us alone! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!”

When the demon had thrown him down before them, he came out of him without having done him any harm. They were all amazed and kept saying to one another, “What kind of utterance is this? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and out they come!” And a report about him began to reach every place in the region. Luke 4:31-37

After a nice long – and very weird – Christmas break, today it is time to get back to work. Jesus makes the same move. After being chased out of his hometown, Jesus also gets back to work. He heals a man possessed of an unclean demon. Three things about this first healing.

First, many of us are uncomfortable with talk about “unclean demons.” We seek more modern, sophisticated, explanations for such things. We want to talk about mental health or physical ailments like epilepsy. On the one hand, that is understandable. We have learned a lot since the old days of leeches and bloodletting. On the other hand, our desire for plausible explanations is also a sign of our need to control everything.

If we can explain something, we can explain it away. We run away from a mysterious, unknowable, and uncontrollable world back to the comfort of what we think we know. Because, if we know, we can control. But we really can’t control life, try as we might.

Second, we are always surprised when the demons immediately recognize Jesus for who Jesus is while everyone else, including, if not especially, the religious leaders, don’t. Why is that? In Mark’s gospel the argument seems to be that the true identity of Jesus won’t be fully known until the resurrection. Until then, his identity remains a secret. But that is a bit different for Luke.

Luke – also the author of Acts – seems much more attentive to what we could call the “spirit world.” The Holy Spirit drives the action in Luke’s writing. Perhaps the demons, also cast as characters in the spirit world, are thus more quick to identify the Holy Spirit working in and through Jesus.

What does that suggest for us? While we might be uncomfortable with talk about demons and unclean spirits, what is more important? That we be right with our theories or that the Holy Spirit be given free reign to make us right with ourselves and the world around us?

This morning I prayed for a woman who is facing surgery today. I believe my prayer, and the prayers of others, play a role in her healing. Why? Because I believe the spiritual world is as active and present as the physical world. Jesus did too. His healing work brings them together.

And finally, notice that Jesus found this possessed man in the synagogue. How about, as we enter this new year, we remind ourselves that faith communities are hospitals for the sick, not country clubs for the self-righteous? Maybe that little reminder will help us let down our defenses and be open to the healing that God wants to work in all of our lives.

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, you are our Healer, our help is every time of trouble. As we move now into a new calendar year, help us be attentive to the spiritual realities of our lives. Both to our own brokenness and the power you have to bring healing. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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