Exorcism of a Man with an Unclean Spirit, Part 3

Exorcism of a Man with an Unclean Spirit, Part 3 January 25, 2024

Exorcism of a Man with an Unclean Spirit


Again, we should take this exorcism story systematically and not individually. Jesus is liberating the people from that which has inhabited and “possessed” their sacred times and sacred spaces through the authority of Rome. No sooner does Jesus step into the status quo sacred space and authority structure than he meets this man. It’s a good hint that we are on the right track here: later in Mark’s gospel the author comes right out and tells us about another demon tormenting a man. 

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(Read this series from the beginning at Part 1 and Part 2.)

“Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “My name is Legion.” (Mark 5:9) 

The Roman Legion was the largest military unit of the Roman army. It often inhabited, “possessed,” or was stationed in areas known to cause problems for the Pax Romana.

The language of this story tells us that Jesus met with opposition from the possessed man immediately: “Immediately there was a man.” Jesus’ authority comes in conflict with the local authority of the scribal authority immediately. Jesus’ teachings are seen as a threat from the very beginning. Our story uses language from the Hebrew sacred text in the context of opposition to political power:

“No! We did it for fear that some day your descendants might say to ours, ‘What do you have to do with the LORD, the God of Israel?’” (Joshua 22:24)

“Then Jephthah sent messengers to the Ammonite king with the question: ‘What do you have against me that you have attacked my country?’” (Judges 11:12)

“She said to Elijah, ‘What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?’” (1 Kings 17:18)

And in our story we read: “Why do you meddle with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?”

Even the demons’ naming Jesus as the holy one of God harkens back to those who stood up to corrupt power in the stories of old. Speaking of Elisha, Elisha’s host tells her husband, “‘I know that this man who often comes our way is a holy man of God’” (2 Kings 4:9). In our story, as in Elisha’s, this designated a prophet who spoke truth to power for the liberation of the people. Our author is giving Jesus prophetic status that the original audience should interpret as equal to that of ancient prophets like Elisha. 

There is also panic in the demons’ voice here. There is fear of disruption. How appropriate for when corrupt authority and power structures are threatened. Those who benefit from these structures fear disruption and change, and oppose change, while those being harmed rejoice. I hear this rejoicing in the people of our story: “The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, ‘What is this? A new teaching—and with authority!’”

The exorcism stories in Mark are to be seen through the apocalyptic lens of that time and place. The apocalyptic worldview sees the world dualistically, as a concrete material world and an unseen world filled with powers, demons, spirits. The concrete is connected with the spiritual and when there is conflict among the unseen, there is also conflict through their conduits in our seen world. This is how some of the ancients explained the existence of injustice, oppression and violence in our world. Jesus in our story in Mark is exorcising those “possessing” his people’s systems to prepare God’s creation for God’s just future, God’s coming rule, or, as the gospels name it, “the kingdom” where everyone is included and everyone has enough to thrive. 

So the inaugural exorcism in our story this week begins with the scribal establishment in the synagogue system of Jesus’ people. The man possessed is the establishment, and the demon is the Roman empire’s coopting of the establishment. Jesus here is not against the scribes, but against their complicity in Roman oppression of his people. In Mark, from the very beginning, we are to see the exorcism stories in this narrative not as private liberations of individual people, but as systemic acts of purging corruption. 

We will have this confirmed by the time we encounter the exorcism stories in Mark 3 and 5. In those chapters, those in power and authority accuse Jesus of exorcising demons in the name of the head demon Beelzebul and the demons themselves are blatantly associated with the Roman empire.

What applications can we make for our lives today?

Again, in Mark, exorcisms were a central action of Jesus:

“So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.” (Mark 1:39)

He also gave his followers the power to do the same:

“He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.” (Mark 3:14-15)

“Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.” (Mark 6:7)

When we look at these stories socially or politically, we are called to also call out and work for change in these areas where our communities are complicit in injustice, such as when our faith community being “possessed” and used by a political party. Outside of our faith communities, a system could be “possessed” when used by elites and the powerful at the expense of those they have made vulnerable. 

Politics is about how power and resources are shared among humans. People of faith should always be involved working for justice to be practiced when people are being marginalized and dispossessed, and faith communities should never allow themselves to be overtaken and possessed by any single political party. We are to be about justice, compassion, inclusion and love, not unconditional loyalty one political party or politician. 

We can be “exorcists,” as Jesus followers. Where is your Jesus following calling you to “cast out” injustice this week?




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About Herb Montgomery
Herb Montgomery, director of Renewed Heart Ministries, is an author and adult religious re-educator helping Christians explore the intersection of their faith with love, compassion, action, and societal justice. You can read more about the author here.

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