If you would indulge me, I want to offer an exploration—a wee sermon, if you will—on some things that I’ve noticed and been meditating on and forgetting and rediscovering and forgetting again for the last few months.
I want to talk about exorcisms, righteousness, and grace.
There is a story in the very first chapter of Mark’s Gospel account of Jesus’s life in which Jesus performs an exorcism.
The story is a pretty typical exorcism story. Jesus shows up at a specific place, in this instance it is at the synagogue in the town of Capernaum. Upon arriving a person possessed by a demon also shows up to confront Jesus. There is a little back and forth dialogue between Christ and the demon before Jesus eventually drives the devil out of the person. Everyone is duly impressed.
What I find interesting about this story though is not necessarily the action of the scene, but the descriptor Mark uses to identify the demon. In fact, the word demon is found nowhere in the story. The person in this story, according to Mark, is possessed not by a demon but by an unclean spirit. The Greek word translated as “unclean” is akathartos. You can see within that Greek word the English word catharsis; the experience of release from strong and repressed emotions. So this man in the story is possessed by a spirit that is against catharsis; opposed to his emotional and spiritual freedom.
Jesus tells this unclean spirit, this spirit of repression, to shut up! He kicks him out of this man. The man convulses and screams (because catharsis is always physical as well as emotional) and then is free.
That’s it. Jesus drives this unclean spirit out of this man, and the man is healthy. Nothing new is added, nothing holy is put in the place of what was unholy. Jesus doesn’t add anything to this man, he simply subtracts. He took away the lies of akathartos, and that was enough.
All throughout the New Testament (and particularly in the letters of the Apostle Paul) the word righteousness is used to describe the people of God. The word (dikaiosuné in Greek) is a term that comes out of a court of law. A judge would decide whether or not a person was righteous. If the judge decided in favor of the person in question, that person was deemed alright (all right) by the court. The person then had righteousness; this person was imbued with alright-ness. Righteousness is essentially the state of being entirely ok as a person…it is being-ok-ness.
Romans 3:21-22 says, “But now God’s righteousness has been revealed apart from the Law, which is confirmed by the Law and the Prophets. God’s righteousness comes through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who have faith in him. There’s no distinction.”
Here Paul is talking about God’s righteousness, God’s own feeling of being-ok. He says that this experience of ok-ness that God feels is separate from the Law, Paul’s shorthand for any way of thinking that expects someone to earn their ok-ness, to live a moral or impressive life. Paul says that this righteousness comes through faith, specifically the faith of Christ. Some translations say faith in Christ, but most scholars now believe that the better translation is the faith of Christ.
So, what Paul is saying is that Jesus had faith that he was righteous. Jesus completely trusted that he was just as ok as God Himself, and anyone else who trusts in the same way as Jesus (has the faith of Christ) will by definition know that they are fully, completely ok. They will have the ok-ness of God.
Let me paraphrase this passage to try to make this a bit more clear.
“But now the state of being-ok that God feels has been revealed completely independent from the do’s-and-don’ts of the Law, though the Law and Prophets do testify to it. This ok-ness of God comes through trust, the kind of trust displayed by Jesus Christ. Anyone who has faith like Jesus inevitably gets it; there is no distinction made.”
If I believe that I am ok, just as God is ok, then I will be.
Every morning I practice something called Centering Prayer. It’s an ancient form of prayer that Christians have been utilizing since the time of the Desert Fathers & Mothers during the 2nd and 3rd centuries (and possibly before…I’m not a scholar on such things).
The way it works is I sit for 20-ish minutes in silence, attempting to clear my mind of all thoughts. Of course, this is impossible to actually do, so when stray thoughts do pop into my head (every couple of seconds) I do not engage them. Instead, I patiently acknowledge the thought, allow it to move on down the stream of consciousness, and then refocus my attention on the present moment with God by gently drawing my mind to a sacred word or phrase that I choose (or God points me towards).
Recently, the sacred word/phrase that I’ve been using has been the verse from 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you.” Whenever I need to refocus my attention on the present moment during prayer, I gently say this phrase…or simply the word grace. It is like a mantra that makes space for the Spirit to slowly mold my heart and mind and soul.
What’s the point?
An exorcism that kicks out a spirit opposed to freedom.
Trusting that I have the ok-ness of God.
Meditating on the insistence from God, “My grace is sufficient for you.”
The thing that I am constantly forgetting is that I’m fine right here, right now.
I keep forgetting that there is nothing I have to do, there is nothing more I need.
I’m already ok.
I keep forgetting that I don’t have to earn my space on this planet.
I keep forgetting that I don’t have to convince others that I’m worth loving.
I already am worth it. I’m already alright.
I keep forgetting all of this.
But it seems that through exorcisms, righteousness, and grace God keeps reminding me.
So before I forget again, let me remind you.
Right now, in all of your imperfections.
In the middle of your resistance to cathartic freedom, even though you cannot believe that it’s true and you’re killing yourself to impress anyone who will look your way.
You are totally, radically ok.
You always have been ok. You always will be ok.
May you and I believe it.