Sunday, May 09, 2021

Rev. Klockers: Demon possession in the Bible and COVID-19 have some things in common

| February 3, 2021 1:00 AM

In the Gospel of Mark, there are two important readings that beg to be compared and contrasted. They are found in the first and fifth chapters of Mark, respectively.

The initial passage talks about fellow Jews within a synagogue. There is a man who shows up with an unclean spirit within the walls of that local holy site.

In the passage, pronouns bounce back and forth between singular and plural; what was believed to be a single demon is eventually revealed to be more than one.

Mark 1:23-27 using the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible:

“Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’”

This was Jesus’ first miracle in Mark’s gospel. Again, involving his own people, the Jews.

Later, in chapter five, Jesus makes his first trip to visit the Gentiles (non-Jews). Here, like before, Jesus encounters a man who has an unclean spirit, and the number eventually turns out to be far greater (2,000). As the story goes, they were cast into swine that drown in the sea.

Mark 5:2-3, 9 using the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible:

”And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him anymore, even with a chain… Then Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He replied, ‘My name is Legion; for we are many.’”

The similarities between the two stories are unmistakable, yet there are vast differences.

One of the points of comparison, I believe, is what is “unclean” (or evil) can be found in both expected and unexpected places. One can interpret this from the extremes given — a Jewish synagogue and a Gentile graveyard.

To the Jew, the second story reeks with things they considered to be “unclean” and that they were to stay far away from. The first encounter, however, in the heart of what may be considered most familiar holy ground, came a greater surprise.

As I write, as odd as this may sound, I began to think of some folks I know. They have been scheduled for their first COVID-19 vaccinations. I am happy for them.

Viruses can be nasty little things. They do not “possess” people like a demon, but they do infect. Even one, introduced to the body, has the capacity to become “Legion” in a matter of days.

How does a virus find a host? I have heard it said this can often occur when there is a “familiarity factor.” This is when a person may drop their guard around people they are familiar with and trust, like family members who have been living under a different roof. What harm would it be to visit them for a while in their cozy home?

An unexpected place for the virus and its transmission – where you let your guard down – might be with that which is most familiar.

I’m hopeful everyone who wants a vaccine will receive it. For you, if you have not had one yet, it might be days, weeks, or a few months.

Be vigilant; err on the side of caution.

Don’t let your guard down. You are so close to having help arrive.

Walter is pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Moses Lake and has served as parish pastor for more than 30 years.