Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

“What have you to do with us, you who are reading this? I know who you are — a Holy One of God!” How does that make you feel when you read those words? Really kind of creepy?

If you’re like me, you’d read along in today’s gospel and think something like, “Oh, the demon recognized Jesus as the Messiah.” You might not immediately catch how threatening those words could be.Yet, They are threatening on so many levels.

We’ve all had strangers phone us and call us by name. Don’t we answer, “Yes?” with a certain hesitancy? We may ask, “Who is this?” but what we really want to know is, “How do you know my name?” We remain uncomfortable with them until we know what business they have with us. Now, what if they answered us by saying, “I know where you live”? I think you’d feel threatened. I know I would.

The demon in the Gospel is threatening Jesus. It calls out Jesus of Nazareth by name. I mentioned a few weeks ago that, in the ancient Jewish mind, knowing someone’s name gives you power over them: dabar — the ‘word’ and the ‘thing’ are the same.

Then comes an accusation: “Have you come to destroy us?” Who is this “us”? When we read these words or hear them read, we immediately presume that the demon is speaking about itself. But, if you were in the crowd standing there, you wouldn’t be certain. Have you come to destroy all of us — the people of Israel, the Jewish nation? The words are ambiguous and deliberately meant to sow doubts and hostility in the minds of the observers and switch their sympathies from Jesus to itself.

Then, the demon says, “I know who you are.” Once again, this is a threatening statement. Think, “I know who you really are!” It’s meant to put the hearer on the defensive. “What does he mean by that? What does he know? He doesn’t know about that does he?” You define the “that.”

Finally, the demon calls Jesus the “Holy One of God.” This phrase echoes the Second Book of Kings, where a widow recognizes Elijah as a “holy one of God.” But, once again, the words are deliberately ambiguous: does it mean a prophet? a holy man? or the Messiah? Don’t think that the demon wasn’t defending itself against Jesus. It didn’t even wait for Jesus to speak. It knew that the best defense is a good offense.

All very interesting, but what does that have to do with me? When the gospels present us with any of the trials that Jesus faced, they’re not only talking about Jesus, they’re talking about you and me. Where are the demons you face, and what are they saying to you?

Demons wear many faces, but none of them look anything like the horned creatures of popular mythology. Demons look like ego. They look like self-doubt. They look like shame. They look like fear. They look like self-pity. They look like despair.

The demons call us by name: our names. They are personal. They know our names and aren’t shy about exercising their power over us.

When they say to us, “Have you come to destroy us?” they laugh. They want us to believe that we’re powerless to be rid of fear, of self-pity, of shame.

Then, they strike the fatal blow. They tell us, “I know who you are…I know who you really are…you can’t hide your dirty secrets from me.”

“After all,” they tell us, “you’re supposed to be a holy one of God, aren’t you? But you’re not, are you?” Don’t tell me demons don’t exist — we’ve all heard them talking to us. Their voices are all too familiar.

There is no demon whom Jesus cannot rebuke. What did he say in the gospel today? “Be quiet!” Hush! Shut up! We are the Body of Christ and imbued with God’s Holy Spirit. There is no demon we cannot rebuke, no matter how it threatens us and lies to us. Jesus did not fight the demon, he rebuked it. We must do the same, because, if we were to choose to fight with our demons, they will win. They win because they will have succeeded in setting us at war with ourselves, and that is a war we cannot win.

In the end, Jesus ordered the demon to come out of the man. There was no fight. The demon just left — it was noisy, but it went. Our demons cannot stay, either, once we surrender and allow the grace of God to silence them. They may complain and make a lot of noise, but they cannot hurt us. They are powerless. The only power they have is if they succeed in turning our fears and our rage against ourselves. “In the name of Jesus,” we say, “be quiet; come out of us.” Without question, they will go.