Blaise Pascal, the 17th century Philosopher, once said, “Justice and power must be brought together, so that whatever is just may be powerful, and whatever is powerful may be just.” As we begin to explore the concept of authority today, Pascal’s words should ring true for us. Authority, or how one uses the power bestowed upon them, can be the catalyst for great things or, if misused, can have dire consequences.
Let me give you an example of what I mean. A corrupt person in power, like a dishonest judge for example, has “authority.” And they can use that authority to make biased decisions. Decisions based upon their own beliefs or ideology or prejudice rather than one based upon a common understanding of justice. But here’s the thing. Each of us, you and I, have a measure of authority as well. But it’s a little different from that of a Judge. We can speak with “authority” if we embody a wisdom and propagate an integrity that others find compelling. So, each one, the corrupt judge and the average person, hold a different kind of power. One comes from the outside, like that given to a judge, while the other comes from within.[i]
Now, I can hear the wheels turning in your heads! “But how can I,” you might say, “as an average Joe or Jane, discover and utilize this inner authority in such a way that I can make a positive difference in my community and the world?” Well, two things come to mind here.
First, snowflakes. If you were to look outside just as it’s beginning to snow, you would see, what, one for two flakes gently drifting down. No big deal. But if you get billions of those little guys together you have a blizzard. And that’s what today’s social justice movement looks like. When we choose to stand against corruption, when we come together as people of faith and say no to injustice, no to racism, sexism, or any of the other “isms” that plague us; when we choose to speak with a unified voice, we become a blizzard. And when we take up the cross of justice, as a community of faith, then, the forces of corruption that stand against us, like the unclean spirit in Mark’s narrative, haven’t got a chance.
And this leads us to the second way we find our inner authority. But this way comes to us on a more personal level. The authority Jesus used to “cast out the unclean spirit” is emblematic of what God does for each of us. What do I mean? Well, think about the man in Mark’s story for a second. The man and his unclean spirit are identical in some ways; one would encounter both at the same time. But if we merely saw the unclean spirit as a different entity than the man, we would be ignoring the genuine tragedy of his life, the degree to which his “unclean spirit” had damaged his psyche, his body, his relationships, his ability to be productive or loving or happy. And it seems to me that the full dimension of this man’s tragic situation is being honored by the way Mark describes him in this story.[ii]
So, with this description in mind, what do you think Mark’s up to here, especially as it relates to us? Well, to be honest, I think much of the opening chapters of Mark revolve around Jesus’ first and very short sermon, “The time is fulfilled,” he said, “…and the Reign of God has come near.” Looking closely at this statement, Karoline Lewis suggests that we might “see the series of miracles Mark narrates up front as describing for us what the Reign of God might look like. But right up front, Mark describes Jesus as what? An exorcist? Maybe, but I think it’s actually a whole lot more!”[iii]
My friends, she’s right on the money when she says there’s “a whole lot more” going on here. Because if we’re honest with ourselves, we all have these “unclean spirit” moments in our lives. Rather than bless, sometimes we curse; rather than build up, we tear down; rather than encourage, we disparage; rather than promote love, we sow hate; rather than lift-up someone’s whose fallen, we tweet or post words that rub it in or push them down even further; in a nutshell, we sometimes seek to separate people rather than draw them together.[iv]
So, if this is the case, maybe we could boil down the first chapter of Mark in this way: Jesus had been baptized, tempted in the wilderness, and came to proclaim and demonstrate the Reign of God on earth, and he did so by opposing the internal forces of evil that lead us away from loving our neighbor.
I mean, think about the creative ways human beings, Christians included, have concocted to divide ourselves and harm one-another. We separate ourselves by race, by lines on a globe, by our faith, our gender, our ideologies. And we reinforce this separation with hate-filled words and with walls; we have excused violence and promoted wars, all in the name of excluding “the other.”
But here’s the hope in all this. Jesus is at work cleansing us from these metaphorical unclean spirits. How? Well, one example comes to us from Thomas Troeger, the composer of many hymns in our hymnal. He says that the Hymn Silence! Frenzied, Unclean Spirit represented an attempt to come to terms with his own figurative “unclean spirit” (his personal depression) and the profound emotional turmoil he encountered in so many people as a pastor. He wanted to draw on the strength of Christ’s healing of this unnamed man for facing these painful situations. And with that background in mind, one of the lines of this hymn caught my attention. It goes: “clear our thought and calm our feeling, still the fractured, warring soul. By the power of your healing make us faithful, true, and whole.”[v]
My friends, the cleansing of our spirit is finally a type of healing. It renews us, restores us, and frees us to be authentic in all our relationships, including our relationship with God. The cleansing of our spirit validates our pain and helps us to deal with difficult situations and people. And it’s this inner healing that allows us to reach out to those around us. The cleansing of our soul gives us the freedom to touch the untouchables, to laugh with the joyous and weep with the mournful, we are free to dream with the dreamers, to walk with the refugee, to shout with the disenfranchised, and to be in community with the lonely.
“Justice and power must be brought together, so that whatever is just may be powerful, and whatever is powerful may be just.”
May it be so. Amen.
[iv] Ibid. Lose.
[v] Thomas H. Troeger. Silence! Frenzied, Unclean Spirit. (The New Century Hymnal) 1995