The gospel teaching today in Luke is told also in Mark. And there’s not much variation from the theme – the same vocabulary, the same location, dynamic, and truth.
The pericope is titled “The Man with the Unclean Spirit.” When you read it take note of the detail that this takes place in the synagogue on the sabbath. The man, then, is someone sitting next to you in a pew on Sunday morning at worship (or more perhaps the man is you sitting in a pew on Sunday morning at worship) and just as another lesson is being read, this man stands to confront Jesus – to call out the Holy One.
Luke 4:31 He went down to Capernaum, a city in Galilee, and was teaching them on the sabbath. 32 They were astounded at his teaching, because he spoke with authority. 33 In the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, 34 “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.” 35 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. 36 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!” 37 And a report about him began to reach every place in the region.
What emerges out of this text each time I read either version is a reminder that in the presence of holiness, that in the face of grace, that before Jesus and in the light, unclean spirits, brokenness, sin, addictions, demons are released.
This demon that resided within, resided within a believer, a member of the synagogue, a fellow parishioner.
We – each and every one of us – have unclean spirits, demons and addictions, lies and unhealthy hearts that we keep under wraps for one reason or another. We believe. We are baptized. We know we are forgiven. We worship. We study and pray God’s Word. We may even proclaim it. This man with the unclean spirit? This is every man.
Until the presence of the Holy One, the sin, the transgression, the addiction, lie, misdeed, unclean spirit is left unexposed – both to the community and perhaps, even to the believer himself. The holy community – the worshiping community, in this case the synagogue – seems to be as surprised at the presence of an unclean spirit in their congregation as they are at the powerful, authoritative presence of the Holy Spirit. Yet the truth of the matter is that both – both unclean spirits within AND the holy Holy Spirit are present in any and all believing, worshiping communities.
And the man with the unclean spirit? Though the unclean spirit had resided alongside his believing spirit, it would no more. In the presence of light – face to face with Jesus – it is excised. The unclean spirit has no chance but to be disclosed. To be exhaled – released and removed from the dark interior hidden place no other man could see, not even fellow believers.
And the man remains. His believing spirit remains within with more room – breathing room – for the truth and light to transform him from the now cleaned inside out. The man remains in the worshiping community – the synagogue. Remains before Jesus. Touched, healed by Jesus. Remains in the light.