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(Read this series from its beginning here.)
Casting Out Demons As Political
Consider this explanation of Jesus’ first exorcism (Mark 1:21-28) by Ched Myers in Say to This Mountain:
“To interpret this exorcism solely as the ‘curing of an epileptic’ is to miss its profound political impact. In contrast to Hellenistic literature, in which miracle-workers normally function to maintain the status quo, gospel healings challenge the ordering of power. Because Jesus seeks the root causes of why people are marginalized, there is no case of healing and exorcism in Mark that does not also raise a larger question of social oppression.” (Ched Myers; Say to This Mountain: Mark’s Story of Discipleship, p. 14)
In this story, Jesus’ exorcism takes place in the heart of a Galilean synagogue, because what the story is juxtaposing the political struggle between the scribal authority there and Jesus’ authority teaching something different.
Also consider the story of the exorcism of the Gerasene demoniac in the synoptic gospels (Mark 5:1-20; Matthew 8:28-34; Luke 8:26-39). The name of the demon in this story is Legion. A Roman legion was the Roman army’s largest military unit and represented the occupying Gentile forces who were possessing the Jewish homeland. So in this gospel story, the people’s oppression by a foreign ruling power appears symbolically as a person’s possession by a foreign/demonic spirit.
Walter Wink asks us to make a similar interpretive choice:
“Some first-century Jews and Christians perceived in the Roman Empire a demonic spirituality which they called Satan (the “Dragon” of Revelation 12). But they encountered this spirit in the actual institutional forms of Roman life: legions, governors, crucifixions, payment of tribute, Roman sacred emblems and standards, and so forth (the “beast” of Revelation 13). The spirit that they perceived existed right at the heart of the empire, but their worldview equipped them to discern that spirit only by intuiting it and then projecting it out, in visionary form, as a spiritual being residing in heaven and representing Rome in the heavenly council. In the ancient worldview, where earthly and heavenly reality were inextricably united, this view of the Powers worked effectively. But for many modern Westerners it is impossible to maintain that worldview. Instead, fundamentalists treat the Powers as actual demonic beings in the air, largely divorced from their manifestations in the physical or political world (the theological worldview), and secularists deny that this spiritual dimension even exists (the materialistic worldview) . . . The demons projected onto the screen of the cosmos really are demonic, and play havoc with humanity. Only they are not up there but over there, in the socio-spiritual structures that make up the one and only real world.” (Walter Wink, The Powers That Be, Location 358, Kindle Edition)
Within this context, any systemic evil or injustice that becomes almost automated within a family, community, religious structure, civil structure, corporation, government, or world power is a demon that must be exorcised. Consider the demon of White supremacy, the demon of greed, or the demon of domination and subjugation that we see in the invasion and repression of Ukraine this year.
When we read of Jesus being threatened by Herod “who is seeking to execute him,” Jesus replies, “Go tell that fox, I’m going to keep on driving out demons.”
Jesus is showing the same political obstinance and determination against injustice and abuse of power, even in the face of lethal threat, that he will again show later in the story when he flips the tables in the courtyard in Jerusalem.
We’ll consider how this may apply to us, next.