Luke 4:31-44

 Engaging with Evil

Luke 4:31-37  -  Jesus Exorcises an Unclean Spirit 

At this stage of his narrative Luke reviewed a long series of events from the life of Jesus that Mark had previously recounted.  He generally kept close to the order given by Mark and even Mark’s wording, though he often improved on the grammatical style.  

By the time Luke wrote his Gospel, the concern of Luke’s community was no longer to convert Israel but to live faithfully as disciples of Jesus in a Roman world that was largely hostile to them.  They were few in numbers and lacking in power.  What was their mission in a world that was in so many ways different from the world of Jesus?  Luke had begun to outline his reading of that mission.  From the way he used the previous incident at Nazareth, he obviously believed that the role of the community was to make their own the merciful, liberating vision and love of God and to bring them to the Gentile world.

Luke’s approach has perhaps become particularly relevant at a time when some Christian communities in rural areas feel that they lack purpose as they face declining numbers and a shortage of priests.

31 He went down to Capharnaum, a town in Galilee.
One Sabbath he was teaching them. 
32 They were amazed at his teaching
because his word had authority. 
33 In the synagogue
there was a man with the spirit of an unclean demon,
and it shouted out in a loud voice,
34 “Let us alone!
What have you got to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth!
Have you come to destroy us?
I know who you are, the holy one of God!”
35 Jesus warned the spirit and said,
“Be silent and come out of him!”
The demon threw the man into the middle,
and came out of him without doing him harm.
36 Fear came over them all.
They talked among themselves, saying,
“What is this word of his?
He gives orders to unclean spirits with authority and power,
and they leave people.”
37 Rumour about him went out around the whole surrounding region.

Mark had used the incident to illustrate the authority of Jesus over against that of the scribes, whom he saw as enforcing an oppressive interpretation of the Jewish Torah. (That the incident happened on a Sabbath served to connect it to Torah observance).  For Luke this incident illustrated the mission of Jesus to rescue people from the constricting power of evil in general.

In the Markan account the demon, in exiting from the possessed man, had violently convulsed him, perhaps symbolizing the heartless and destructive approach of the structures of power.  Luke showed a Jesus so much in control that the demon meekly exited the possessed man. 

The demon’s naming of Jesus reflected the belief at the time that to name persons was to control them in some way.  Demons might name Jesus but they could not control him.


Facilitating Wholeness (1) – Freeing for Service

Luke 4:38-41  -  Jesus Heals at Simon’s House

38 He got up from the synagogue
and went to the home of Simon.
Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a raging fever.
They asked him about her.
39 He stood over her,
rebuked the fever,
and it left her.
She immediately got up and looked after them.

Luke had shown Jesus firstly as preacher, then as exorcist.  He now showed him as healer.  The healing illustrated, perhaps more clearly than preaching and exorcism, how the prophecy of Isaiah was being fulfilled, and gave reason to accept that the Lord’s year of favour had dawned.

Natural causes for illnesses – viruses, infections, genetic effects, etc. – were not generally understood in the Mediterranean world of Jesus’ contemporaries.  Indeed, they had little if any awareness of natural causes for any natural phenomena.  Everything that happened, good or bad, expected or unexpected, was due to personal agents – God, gods, angels, demons or other human persons.  The term used by both Mark and Luke that Jesus rebuked the fever may contain echoes of this attitude.

That a woman should serve was taken for granted in the patriarchal world of the time.  Jesus would make clear at a later stage that service of others was the hallmark of the Christian community and a necessary attitude of all disciples.

Luke mentioned Simon as though he had already introduced him into his narrative.  His departure from a faithful following of Mark’s ordering of events caused the oversight.

40 When evening came,
all those who had anyone ill with any kind of sickness
brought them along to him.
He laid his hands on each one of them
and healed them.
41 Demons came out of many of them, shouting
and saying, “You are the son of God!”
He warned them not to say such things,
because they did know he was the Christ.

The narrative simply generalised and confirmed the two previous accounts of exorcism and healing.

Mark emphasised how use of the title of Christ/Messiah was dangerous during the ministry of Jesus.  With the destruction of the nation in 70 AD the issue become a totally dead issue both to Judaism and to Luke’s community.

Jesus – Healer and Exorcist?

The Culture.  In the Jewish mindset, illness was either punishment from God, or due to the malevolence of evil spirits or the envious actions of humans (the “evil eye”).  Psychological and neurotic illnesses, which seemed to change people’s personalities and usual behaviours, were generally attributed to people’s being taken over, inhabited or possessed by evil spirits.  

To be ill was to be judged.  In the collective mindset of the time sick people internalised these general attitudes and felt themselves to be somehow guilty, shameful, evil and rightly punished.

Illness was to be cured by placating God (or gods), by overpowering or tricking the evil spirits, or averting, or by causing the withdrawal of the power of the “evil eye”.  Just as illnesses abounded, so too healings and exorcisms abounded.   Success was not seen as proof of divine power.  People took healings and exorcisms for granted and subjected them to minimal scrutiny.

Jesus’ Response.  The healing impact of Jesus on people was well known.  How did he do it?  Luke didn’t tell.  But it is possible to imagine the profound impact that Jesus had on people.  He approached them with transparent integrity.  He clearly loved and personally related to them.  His integrity, compassion and availability had unusual and liberating effects – cutting across their deep sense of shame, guilt, self-rejection and internalised punishment.

Externalised, freely given compassion and love were rare in a culture dominated by “honour codes”.  A good deed was always done in order to be reciprocated.  Patrons might show largesse, but in restricted ways, and for the sake of gaining praise and greater prestige.  Gratuitous love was unusual – which accounted for its phenomenal impact when given by Jesus.

As well, Jesus presumably had a clear charism of healing and inner discernment, as do some gifted people in our own world.

Jesus so healed and exorcised that people did not feel trapped or obligated to reciprocate.  He did not hold them in thrall.  He set them free and empowered them to grow.  His impact, rather than making him different from people, awakened them to the possibilities within themselves to become more fully alive, more fully human – like him.


Earnestness of the Mission

Luke 4:42-44  -  Jesus Preaches in Synagogues

42 When day broke, he moved away
and went to a deserted location.
The crowds eagerly sought him.
They came up to him,
and pressured him not to leave them.
43 He told them,
“I need to announce the good news of the Kingdom of God
in other towns, too,
because that is what I was sent for.”
44 And he went preaching in the synagogues of Judea. 

Luke wanted to emphasise 

  • the initial enthusiasm generated by Jesus (other than among his kinsfolk of Nazareth)
  • the need apparently felt by Jesus for solitude
  • the ministry of Jesus in the synagogues situated in the cities.  (Luke’s readers were city-dwellers.) 

Next >> Luke 5:1-11