What is it with evil spirits? (Hunch 23)
Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed. When they heard all he was doing, many people came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon. Because of the crowd he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him. For he had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him. Whenever the evil spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” But he gave them strict orders not to tell who he was.
I'm not sure I like telling stories about evil spirits. It's scary to think people can be controlled by evil. We should not think the story of Jesus is to scare us out of our wits. But how should we think about "spirits" and "evil spirits"?
Ever been in a large crowd at a big event? When large crowds gather, and we are right there in the middle, it's easy to feel dizzy. Ever had that happen to you? If these events are held regularly then we learn to cope. But if we are not used to dizzy spells we can freak out. There are too many people. We panic. We lose sight of what helps us stay calm. In a crowd it is easy to lose direction, to feel very strange. Crowds can't solve our problems. We have to be careful. Crowds can carry us along where we shouldn't go.
Jesus was suspicious about crowds, about the way people joined movements, yes, even when they joined His movement. Maybe that had something to do with the "evil spirits" that were busy then and there. "Uptight people" often try to find release when they have a crowd around. He knew that in large crowds some people are tempted to exaggerate. They lose their grip on reality.
Maybe Mark was saying that lots of people then, like now, were "up tight" or "very up tight". They saw Jesus and had a real bad panic attack. Maybe that's what Mark is saying. They would freak out and ask Him to go away. They couldn't stand it. Maybe it was something like that. It's hard to know for sure. They were not all that different from us. But as for Jesus, He wasn't fooled by crowds. He withdrew. He needed time out and so did the people who were "hyper" about Him, if only they knew it. He was not going to allow the crowd to dictate. Some were there to hear about God’s Kingdom; others may have come for wrong reasons and some, I guess, didn't know why they were there, having come for the ride. When Jesus “withdrew”, He showed them His way of teaching was not a crowd thing.
By going away, Jesus was telling the crowd that He was giving priority to His closest disciples. They needed to know that and He was also reminding them of their own responsibilities; their family duties, as wives, husbands, children, parents; their tasks as friends and neighbours living in communities. Jesus expected people to leave Him alone when He had time-out like that. He wanted people to live their lives, not just hang around waiting for a miracle to happen.
Jesus made sure they could leave when He said so. He had the boat ready. He kept things under control, telling the evil spirits to keep quiet. They shouted but He was not impressed. He knew the people in the crowd needed time to think about what they had heard. To grow spiritually they needed time out, time to be healed at their own speed, in God's time. If there was to be any “shouting” it would be a shout of praise to God, just like all of creation does already, day by day, when it shows off God's goodness and grandeur in sun, rain and even in the beautiful fog.
So when He quietly withdrew, Jesus was telling the people to quietly follow His example. He does not want shouters or ranters; He wants followers who listen to the teaching of the Kingdom of God and put it into practise. Jesus' teaching is more valuable than the finest gold, sweeter than the sweetest honey-comb. Those prone to panic attacks are taught to rely upon God’s promises, to trust His timing, for all their lives, for all of their days, from top to bottom, from inside out.