“Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and [the man] cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” Mark 1:23-24
Have you ever wondered how long the man with the “unclean spirit” had been coming to the synagogue in Capernaum? Could his presence that day have signaled the first time he had crossed over its threshold and joined other members of the congregation? Or had this tormented man been showing up for as long as anyone could remember?
There is the understandable tendency to keep the onus of being in the thrall of a chaotic or unclean spirit – as being the problem of this lone individual – when reflecting on the significance of this passage. After all, only one man cried out – even if it was in the presence of a gathered congregation. For that matter, who would want to be labelled as completely unhinged be it in Jesus’ time or our own? Such that this man’s anguished cry, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” remains the problem of this one man and thereby has nothing to do with the congregation or the rest of us.
But what if this tormented man had been a ‘fixture’ in that community for years? A nuisance, perhaps. Something to be tolerated. But utterly alone. What then?
What if we were to read this account differently? Rather than have a crazed man cry out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth,” suppose we were the ones asking the question?
“Jesus, what have you to do with us?”
We who are in over our heads?
We who try to be faithful but flounder in the wake of it?
We who are commanded to love our enemies but are consumed by anger?
When we’re really honest with ourselves, is this passage only about this one man?
Or is it a story about us? We who need to hear the definitive word of God spoken. We who have given up hope. We who are numbed beyond recognition.
“Jesus,” we whisper, “what have you to do with us?”
And in that moment – Jesus does not turn away – but turns to us, speaking the definitive and healing Word.