The miracles of Jesus served many purposes; of course, they were service to those who most needed healing, but they also supported Jesus’ divine nature, adding evidence to the claims that he was indeed the long awaited Messiah promised by God. The affirmation of Jesus’ identity gives us the opportunity to reflect on his nature as truly God and truly man. The duality of Christ can be hard to comprehend, just as challenging as the Trinitarian nature of God, yet there is evidence for this nature all over the Gospels. Jesus is born to human parents, experiences emotions of joy, anger, and grief, and, after suffering great bodily harm, dies as we all do. His human nature is well documented, especially in the Gospel of Mark where we find this reading.
However, there is also extensive evidence in the Gospels of Jesus’ divine nature. We find it in God’s acknowledgement of Jesus as his son when he is baptized in the Jordan River. We find it in the Transfiguration, where Christ’s divine being is illuminated for his closest disciples. We find it most frequently in his miracles, where Jesus offers physical and spiritual healing to people from all walks of life. His miracles directly connect him to the power of God, wielding it not as a weapon, the way the Greek and Egyptian gods of antiquity did, but as a way to mend what is broken.
In myth and legend, the power of gods destroys and manipulates the natural world and its inhabitants. Gods punish their human underlings, wage wars against other gods and use humans as their cavalry, collude with the dark forces of this world and beyond in order to achieve their own divine ends. In the Gospels, Jesus’ way of being God contradicts all of these stereotypes and character arcs, and at times seems to oppose the God we find in the Old Testament.
What strikes me most about this particular miracle, as well as others like it, is the recognition of the “unclean spirit.” The man possessed by an unclean spirit knows who Jesus is - he identifies Christ as “Jesus of Nazareth” and “the Holy One of God.” The same happens in similar miracles when Jesus eradicates darkness and evil from the world. The demonic beings always recognize who Jesus is - and Jesus’ true identity terrifies them. They know this God-man to be all powerful, all mighty, transcendent, and eternal. Their recognition of him demonstrates the other-worldliness of Jesus; he is not a simple carpenter’s son from Nazareth, he is not an average rabbi traveling the Galilean countryside, he is so much more. He is known by the worst enemies of good, and they recoil in fear at the mention of his name. They are compelled to obey his commands.
This level of power would allow Jesus to manipulate those evil forces for his own gain, yet the most he does is run a demonic spirit into a herd of pigs and wilt a fig tree. It is impossible to comprehend the reality of this kind of power and leads me to contemplate the nature of free will. God’s mercy and love allow us to make our own choices and to lead our own lives. Miracles involving demonic possession and unclean spirits show that Jesus has power over all the forces in our world and beyond. He could easily bend our wills to match his own, creating a following of mindless, loving drones carrying out the works of the Lord with no thought about or choice in the manner. A perfect world with perfect human beings is within God’s grasp, yet, this is clearly not the world we live in.
Rather, we are given the opportunity to align our choices and lifestyle to the will of God. We are not compelled to do so; we have a choice in the matter. We are gifted with knowledge to discover what the will of God is in our lives and with wisdom to tap into the greater meaning of God’s creation. We are invited to participate in God’s life and it takes courage and practice to accept that invitation. Jesus demonstrated what we can be when we take on God’s will as our own, yet he never forced us to do so. While it may seem like fantasy to contemplate God’s power over evil forces and by extension the power God might wield over humanity, what I see is an incredible gift of love, patience, and respect that allows us to make our own mistakes, to take our time in finding our way, and to build the kingdom of God on earth through the example of Jesus.