Jesus as Healer and Preacher- Luke 4:31-44

19 Feb

In chapter 4:31-44 of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus preaches and then exorcises a demon from a man, proceeds to heal many at the house of Simon, then retreats into solitude before continuing to spread His teachings throughout the synagogues of Judea. Many themes are interwoven within these verses. I will focus on four of these themes: the emphasis on the large crowds of people whom Jesus taught, the importance of prayer and of seeking calm in the midst of activity, the significance of exorcism and healing, and the ministry of Our Lord and its relation to our call to discipleship and to righteousness.Very early in his public life, Jesus became well acquainted with large crowds. According to Luke’s Gospel, He began by teaching in synagogues throughout Galilee. Jesus’ words were initially met with praise from the people. (cf. Luke 4:15, 4:22) However, those hearing Jesus’ teaching in Nazareth just as quickly turned on Him in a fit of jealous rage. Jesus was met with rejection in His hometown when He preached that, although those in the synagogue had been the first to hear Him, foreigners and outcasts would be among the first to accept His message and to benefit from having listened to and having followed it. (cf. Luke 4:25-27) The people in the synagogue attempted to push Jesus over a cliff, but He escaped and continued along His path. Jesus passed through to another town, Capernaum. (cf. Luke 4:29-31)

Luke writes that Jesus arrived in Capernaum “and was teaching…on the Sabbath” (Luke 4:31). As at Nazareth, Jesus was following existing Jewish custom whereby a recognized and knowledgeable person was called upon to read from the Scriptures and to teach the people. Thus, Luke again points out Jesus’ faithfulness to Judaism. Accordingly, the Gospel writer omits the contrast found in Mark’s Gospel between the respected teaching of Jesus and the less valued instruction of the scribes. (cf. Mark 1:22) By the time He had arrived in Capernaum, Our Lord had nonetheless established Himself as a commanding figure; “He spoke with authority.” (Luke 4:32)

Following His teaching in Capernaum, Jesus encountered a man with an unclean spirit. Although a person’s possession by demons, or other afflictions mentioned in the Bible, is commonly understood as sin on the part of the individual, this isn’t necessarily the case. For example, Jesus reminds us in the Gospel of John of the man born blind: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” (John 9:3) Luke provides other examples of suffering not clearly equating to moral evil. For instance, Jesus was met by a man with so many demons within him that they were called “Legion”. He cast the demons out of the man and into nearby swine, which then drowned in a lake. (cf. Luke 8:26-33) The naked man had lived among the tombs for a long time, but the Gospel of Luke doesn’t explicitly state that he was sinful. Earlier, Mary Magdalene is said to have been relieved of “seven demons” (Luke 8:2), but again Luke doesn’t specify that her affliction was due to her immorality, as is often suggested of her.

It is therefore unimportant whether or not the man with the unclean spirit at Capernaum was suffering because of his own sin. Luke’s Gospel tells us only that Jesus removed the demon from the man. Many people were witness to the exorcism. Thus Jesus gained a widespread reputation: “(A) report about Him began to reach every place in the region.” (Luke 4:37) However, Jesus did not seek fame. He welcomed the many people, though occasionally He needed to withdraw to quiet places, much as we need to retreat into silence in order to hear the Word of God properly. Jesus may have understood the large crowds as a required part, though far from the most essential element, of His ministry.

Similarly to the everyday difficulties in our faith journey, such as when we find it difficult to dispose ourselves to prayer or when we find it difficult to understand or to explain a part of religious doctrine, Jesus likely was strained by His being followed by the masses. This was like a desert to Him, much like we may feel deserted when some aspects of our faith challenge us. The natural response is to retreat to “a deserted place” (Luke 4:42, cf. Luke 5:16) to seek God who always seeks us first.

Just as Jesus would later call the first disciples to Him (cf. Luke 5:1-11), He called on the unclean spirit within the man in the synagogue at Capernaum: “Be silent, and come out of him!” (Luke 4:35) As I have noted in previous posts, silence is essential in order to hear God’s call to us. Luke writes that, after Jesus had commanded the demon to leave the man, it did so “without having done Him any harm”. (Luke 4:35) Nothing- not demons, or temptation by Satan in the desert, or the mob at Nazareth that tried to push Him off a cliff- could stop Jesus. Eventually, Jesus would conquer death itself, but much work remained before then. Out of the multitudes, Jesus hand-picked His twelve closest followers. He would teach them, and eleven of these men would become great by becoming the greatest servants. Successive generations would follow the initial Apostles- generations of saints and servants by whom the Church has been and continues to be blessed.

The Synoptic Gospels agree that power over demons is an important part of the apostolic mission. Matthew, for instance, says, “Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.” (Matthew 10:1) Mark’s Gospel states that the twelve Apostles were named and were commissioned “to be with Him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons.” (Mark 3:14-15) Luke writes of the crowd that had come from afar “to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured.” (Luke 6:18 ) This passage closely follows Luke’s account of Jesus’ selection of the Apostles.

Thus a comparison of the Synoptic Gospels shows the importance of casting out demons and of curing the diseased. Belief in exorcism was common among the Jews of Jesus’ time. Demons were associated with both moral and natural suffering. Furthermore, the cures and exorcisms that Jesus caused follow a common formula. The Lucan Gospel tells of Jesus rebuking the unclean spirit in the man at Capernaum. The same verb is used twice more shortly thereafter: the Lord rebuked the fever that had afflicted Simon’s mother-in-law, and He also rebuked other demons within other people who had come to Him at Simon’s house. (cf. Luke 4:39, 41)

Luke’s use of the verb “to rebuke” brings to mind another passage from Luke concerning how we are to act toward another who has sinned. Jesus says, “If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.” (Luke 17:1-4)

Thus, whether in the case of cleansing a person of demons or of sin, rebuking the offending party is important, though such confrontation is secondary to our role of loving forgiveness in Christ’s name. The Lord calls us by name to this forgiveness out of His everlasting love. This love is deeper than even a mother’s love for her child. God never forgets us; we are inscribed on the palms of His hands. (cf. Isaiah 49:15-16)

In Luke’s Gospel, the demon at Capernaum also calls Jesus by name: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” (Luke 4:34) Jesus’ heals the suffering of the man at Capernaum, but the demon responds with fear as he is cast out. Likewise, we are entrusted with the mission of helping those who suffer in our own time to the best of our ability. The demon may return repeatedly, stubbornly seeking “the house from which (it) came.” (Matthew 12:44) Those who suffer may be unreceptive to our aid, especially if it involves the recognition of one’s sin. Our response should be that of patience, of persistence, and of prayer.

We also need to be aware of our own shortcomings as disciples, without beating ourselves up over them. Jesus warns us, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32) Also, “first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye” (Matthew 7:5) Only with this awareness will we be able to progress toward the level of service that Our Lord expects of us.

The aforementioned metaphor of obstructions in people’s eyes also applies to our call to God’s service in that we are often summoned unexpectedly to discipleship. Jesus was known to call the righteous, the tax collectors, and the terrible persecutors like Saul alike. In Saul’s case, he is also called by name. Jesus seeks close personal friendship with this murderer. Saul hears a voice: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me.” Saul is blinded and then brought to Damascus, where he neither eats nor drinks anything for three days. (cf. Acts 9:9) God asks Ananias, a disciple in Damascus, to lay his hands on Saul to restore his sight. Ananias is reluctant to do so: “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” (Acts 9:13) He is reminded, as we are, that it is God’s choice to convert sinners like Saul: “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel…” (Acts 9:15) Ananias does as God directs him to do, and Saul regains his sight. St. Luke, the author of both the Gospel and of the book of the Acts of the Apostles, writes that “immediately something like scales fell from (Saul’s) eyes, and his sight was restored.” (Acts 9:18 )

Likewise, it is God’s choice to call us to His service. We must be open to how God wants us to serve Him. From Jesus’ healings at Capernaum and at Simon’s house, and His instructions to His Apostles, it is obvious that the curing of the sick and the casting out of demons are important aspects of some people’s Christian call. Preaching the good news both near and abroad is also essential. Jesus shows this as He leaves Capernaum to proclaim His message to all the synagogues of Judea. (cf. Luke 4:43-44) He has rested in a deserted place, but now His work must continue.

Our work in Christ’s name must continue also. Some of us are appointed apostles, some prophets, and others are made teachers. Some, as St. Paul tells us, are capable of “deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues…” (1 Corinthians 12:28 ) But St. Paul says: “Strive for the greater gifts, And I will show you a more excellent way”- that of love. (1 Corinthians 12:31, cf. 1 Corinthians 13) Without love, we are blind to the One who calls us to service and our many gifts mean nothing. Without love, our eyes are still covered by scales, and we see nothing even though they are open. (cf. Acts 9:8 )

Lord, you call us to your service in many different ways- as healers, as teachers, as leaders, and as prophets. May we strive for your way of love- an even greater gift. When you call us, may we then be prepared to relinquish all and follow you. The scales and logs of blindness to your message will no longer affect our sight. You are the light of the world. Make us better bearers of that light. Jesus, remember us when you come into your Kingdom. Amen.




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