'You must face up to your personal demons.' This is the sort of advice which is given to people who seem to have been taken over by some powerful addiction, whether it is drugs, alcohol, shopping or just a deep personal hatred against someone. They are in the grasp of some supra-human power which they cannot control but must eventually face and defeat.
But there are also situations in which whole societies, usually totalitarian, seem to be possessed by a demonic power which drives them on to places like the killing fields in Cambodia or to create the destructive machines of National Socialism which lead to Dachau and its incinerators. Such societies have been taken over by a dominating diabolic power.
This is how St Mark sees the world into which Jesus comes. It was not neutral ground, but occupied by Satan. The Messiah will have to be involved in this cosmic battle. The whole Gospel is shaped in these terms.
The first challenge which Jesus faces is a struggle with Satan for forty days in the desert. And as soon as he emerges from this encounter he announces the coming of the kingdom of God. It will break into this world through his own ministry. Once Jesus has called his disciples the first action he performs is an exorcism. And this incident with all its dramatic details dominates the first day of his ministry.
In today's Gospel Jesus goes to teach in the synagogue at Capernaum. People are astounded at the authority of his teaching for he not only proclaims the kingdom of God in words but he demonstrates in his actions how the kingdom of Satan will be defeated.
Immediately he clashes with the evil spirit which possesses one of the congregation, and just as quickly the demon becomes aware of the presence of holiness in Jesus. It is as though the presence of the Holy One draws out the evil forces from the woodwork. But it is interesting to see how the demon first recognises Jesus; it is not as the forgiver of sins or the healer of the sickness but as the Destroyer. 'Have you come to destroy us?', the demon demands. Holiness has a destructive as well as a creative power.
Then Jesus, the Holy One of God, exercises his authority and by the power of his word silences the spirit and orders it to leave the man so that he is free. The drama is not yet finished. As the evil spirit violently shakes his victim and screams in defeat, the kingdom of Satan is pushed back by the destructive power of Jesus.
Imagine such a scene today at a quiet Sunday Mass -- supernatural conversations, shouts from the exorcist and a writhing body in the sanctuary as the screaming devil departs . Not what one expects in church on a Sunday! But such an incident might make us aware that Jesus was not just fighting against visible forces but his struggle was very much as St Paul described it:
Our battle is not against human forces but against the rulers and authorities and their dark powers that govern the world. We are struggling against the spirits and supernatural forces of evil.
In our sophisticated society we may be embarrassed with all this talk of demons and Satan. Surely we have moved on from the such simplistic dualisms? We may have moved on in the ways we explain, in modern medical terminology, some of the manifestation of disease and sickness, but a brief glance at the newspapers will remind us that the presence of evil is still very much present in our society.
The good news of this Gospel is that for individuals with their personal demons, and for societies with their collective addictions, Christ can still exorcise these demons.
We are told as early chapter three in Mark that that Jesus provoked so much hostility that his enemies 'sought ways to destroy him.' We know at the end of the Gospel Jesus faced these powers of evil and defeated them on the Cross. Through the power of the Risen Christ the Church now gives us access to both his destructive and creative power.
Where? At the Sunday Mass and through the other sacraments, through exorcisms, through prayer, fasting , and in all the other ways that Jesus brought his Kingdom nearer and routed Satan.