In our Gospel reading we have a fairly typical recounting of Jesus casting out demons and healing people. I’m sure you’re familiar with the general framework of the story: A possessed man starts yelling at Jesus, the demons know who he is, Jesus tells the demons to shut up and casts them out, and then, when the man gets up, he’s in his right mind again. This kind of story is pretty common in the Gospels.
But in this specific case, there’s a lot of weird stuff happening. First of all, St. Luke says the demon is an “unclean demon” (which begs the question, are there clean demons? Hmm). And then when Jesus confronts the possessed man, the demon possessing him says something very strange: “Let us alone! What have we to do with you, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” In a funny way, what the demon says to Jesus is almost identical with what Jesus said to his mother at the wedding at Cana. When the wine runs out, Mary comes and tells Jesus about this travesty, and he says: “What does that have to do with me, woman?” (To which Mary might have responded, as my own mother would say, “you’re not too old for a beating.”) So what this tells us is that what the demon is really saying is: “Of what concern are we to you? I remember you well, Jesus…you kicked us out of heaven, and now we have to hang out down here on earth, that was the deal. Why are you here? We shouldn’t be crossing paths.” It seems that the demons know who he is, but they’re not quite sure why he’s there. Very strange.
The weirdness continues in the next few verses, as Jesus comes into Simon Peter’s house and is told that Simon’s mother-in-law is sick with a very high fever. So he goes and stands over her, but instead of simply taking her by the hand and raising her upright, as he would often do with other people, he rebukes the fever. Just so we’re clear…Jesus can talk to fevers. That’s weird. How does one rebuke a fever? It’s a fever; it’s an immune response. It’s not really even a thing in itself! This incident is right up there with Jesus cursing the fig tree on the weirdness scale. How many fig trees do you think are fluent in ancient Aramaic? How about fevers? There’s definitely something strange going on here, but I think we get a clue as to what’s happening in the next few verses.
Later on that evening, after all these events had taken place, all the healthy folks with sick friends and relatives bring said friends and relatives to Jesus, so that he can lay his hands on them and heal them. And then St. Luke says: “And demons also came out of many…” This is also pretty weird. Sick people, not demon-possessed people, are brought to Jesus (allegedly), and yet the demons are still coming out. I think Jesus knows something about the world that we don’t.
Here’s the point. Pastor and I talked about this a couple days ago, and we both agreed that the modern world is in large part unable and unwilling to discern the supernatural forces around us. People tend to be superstitious to some extent, true, but nowadays superstition never gets very far beyond “karma” and “good vibes.” I think most people imagine the world to be a sort of “neutral ground” where the non-spiritual forces good and evil can battle it out on a more-or-less level playing field. And while the powers that be are busy fighting, we can pick sides and debate morals and ethics based on ends and the means to those ends. We can choose our destinies (barring any unfortunate circumstances), we can march to the beat of our own drum, live our best life now, and when the end of life comes, we say: “Well, life and death; yin and yang; it’s the balance. Death is just a natural part of life. Good and evil are two sides of the same coin.”
But this is the great veil that’s been pulled over our eyes; in fact, this is the greatest lie ever told…and I know this because Jesus can talk to fevers.
If Jesus can talk to fevers, and if demons are flying out of sick people left and right, then the world isn’t nearly as neutral as we might suppose. And if that’s true then maybe sickness and death really aren’t a natural part of life, maybe they’re actually caused by something evil and insidious that shouldn’t be there. And if the demons are shocked and confused as to why the Son of God has invaded their space, then it means that the world is not a nonaggression zone—it’s under the jurisdiction of the devil, and he’s very aggressive.
Jesus is not playing on a level playing field; he’s declared war right in the middle of the enemy camp. The prince of this world is Satan, St. John tells us. Which means that Jesus has invaded a kingdom that God has let fall under Satan’s management, and he’s besieging it with everything he’s got.
So, what does that mean for us? Where’s our citizenship lie? Well, as the Psalm says, we were brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did our mothers conceive us. Because of sin, we’re on the devil’s side, not God’s. Our citizenship is in the kingdom of demons, and we reap all the benefits of the devil’s socialist policies: illnesses and infirmities, fevers, and yes, death. In this way, the possessed man’s words could really be our own: “What have we poor, miserable sinners to do with you, Jesus of Nazareth. Why do you concern yourself with us? We sinned in the garden, we took what was not ours to take, you kicked us out of Eden, and now we have to hang out down here. That was the deal. We shouldn’t be crossing paths.”
To all this Jesus says, “I’ve not come to destroy you, and I’ve not come to cast you out. I’ve come to set you free.” St. Luke tells us that after Jesus rebukes the demons and heals the sick, he says, “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, because for this purpose I have been sent.” Jesus’ message and actions mean one thing: there’s been a change of jurisdiction. The King—the Real King—has come into the world and asserted his authority over sin, death, and the devil. Satan is no longer in possession of you. God has laid his hands upon you, and every unclean spirit has been driven out.
The people in the synagogues see Jesus doing all these miraculous things and say, “What a Word is this.” They spoke truer words than they knew. Christ is the Word itself, which St. John tells us is with God and is God, through which everything in creation was created. Of course, this means that Satan’s kingdom was never as grand and powerful as he thought it was. His jurisdiction was not so far reaching as he’d hoped. With minimal effort, the Word of God speaks to his creation, and what he says is done. The demons leave, the fevers disappear, and the people are set free.
In our Old Testament reading God tells Jeremiah, “See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out and to pull down, to destroy and to throw down, to build and to plant.” The demons have been rooted out, and the walls of Satan’s kingdom have been pulled down and destroyed; the kingdom of God has been built up, and the seeds of the Gospel are planted throughout the world. And while we still suffer the effects of sin here on earth, we also know that by his death and resurrection, Jesus destroyed Satan’s kingdom once and for all, and he purchased your citizenship in the kingdom of God. Sin and death no longer have the last word; you are free. Amen.