15th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Reflection: Expelling modern-day demons


“Jesus sent them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits.” 

What were those “unclean spirits?”

In the context of the first century, the category apparently included afflictions such as demonic possession, mental illness, and perhaps some sorts of compulsions. Today, we have differing views about demonic possession and place great trust in the helping professions to support people with mental illness and addictions. Has Jesus’ style of mission become obsolete?

In Jesus’ times, something “unclean” was unholy: not positively evil, but incompatible with knowing and enjoying the presence of God. Today we might identify a great number of attitudes that fit the category of unclean spirits.

Last week’s Gospel highlighted the incapacity/unwillingness to hope in God’s reigning. Other dispositions that fit the bill include cynicism, deceitfulness, passivity in the face of physical or psychological violence, or indifference to the plight of people who suffer. These attitudes cause genuine harm to others and ultimately kill the human spirit of the very people who nourish them. Obviously, Jesus’ mission is needed at least as much now as in ancient times. 

Who is supposed to carry it out?

As Mark tells the story, Jesus sent “the Twelve,” a group that symbolized the chosen people. Christ’s mission belongs to all believers.

Once we figure that out, Amos might drop by to give us a warning. Like many others, Amos never applied for the job of prophet. Chosen without being consulted, he was commissioned to speak God’s challenging word to the leaders of his people. Their response? “Go home!” Amos ended up standing in for God as the brunt of their anger and rejection. If today’s disciples would ask, Amos would let them know that the minute they begin to deal with unclean spirits, somebody will pin a bullseye on them. That’s the risk assumed by anyone who carries out Christ’s mission.

In reality, nobody chooses this. As St. Paul reminded the Ephesians, we didn’t start this; God chose us to manifest “the glory of God’s grace.” That glory, of course, is God’s reigning among us. We must make no mistake; the task belongs to God who chooses people according to their abilities to continue Jesus’ mission.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul leads us into a deeper reflection about what it means to be chosen for Christ’s mission. He says, “before the foundation of the world, God chose us to be holy . . . adopted us in Christ and [let us know] the mystery” of God’s own hopes for the world. By creating, God began the long process of evolution that has led to us, human creatures who can choose to accept or reject God’s offer of fullness of life. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus reveal our potential to know union with God.

Mark tells us of the mission of the Twelve because it is our mission as well. 

Paul proclaims that we are blessed “in Christ.” That little phrase refers to the profound way God has chosen to be present and share divine life with us. The Incarnation expresses God’s desire for union with us “in Christ.” Christ has invited us to be active members of his body, allowing his grace to empower us just as the Father empowered Jesus. We live “in Christ” as we carry on his mission just as really as when we receive the Eucharist that impels us into that mission. (“Do this in memory of me.”)

Obviously, Mark didn’t tell us about Jesus’ missioning of the Twelve simply to give us a history lesson. Mark called his Gospel “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” He published the beginning so that it would be carried on. He tells us of the mission of the Twelve because it is our mission as well. 

Interestingly, Mark says that the disciples had authority over unclean spirits, but he tells us nothing of the content of the disciples’ preaching. Instead of a script, Mark describes their mode of travel. They needed sandals and a walking stick to be ready for a long journey, but they were to take no material or financial provisions. They were going out as vulnerable as our God who offers a love that can never be imposed.

The only task Jesus defined for the disciples was to drive out unclean spirits. Like them, our baptism commissions us to help others know and enjoy the presence of God — in spite of and in the midst of tragic situations and relentless attitudes that obscure our vision of what God wants for our world.

If this mission sounds impossible, Amos and Jesus would say that’s OK. It’s not ours to make it happen, we can only announce the possibilities in deed and word. And that’s enough to expel unclean spirits.

Reading I

(Amos 7: 12-15)

Amaziah, priest of Bethel, said to Amos,
“Off with you, visionary, flee to the land of Judah! 
There earn your bread by prophesying,
but never again prophesy in Bethel;
for it is the king’s sanctuary and a royal temple.” 
Amos answered Amaziah, “I was no prophet,
nor have I belonged to a company of prophets;
I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores. 
The LORD took me from following the flock, and said to me,
Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 85: 9-14)

R. Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.

I will hear what God proclaims;
the LORD —for he proclaims peace.
Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him,
glory dwelling in our land.
R. Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.

Kindness and truth shall meet;
justice and peace shall kiss.
Truth shall spring out of the earth,
and justice shall look down from heaven.
R. Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.

The LORD himself will give his benefits;
our land shall yield its increase.
Justice shall walk before him,
and prepare the way of his steps.
R. Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.

Reading II

(Ephesians 1: 3-14 or 1: 3-10)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us in Christ
with every spiritual blessing in the heavens,
as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world,
to be holy and without blemish before him. 
In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ,
in accord with the favor of his will,
for the praise of the glory of his grace
that he granted us in the beloved.
In him we have redemption by his blood,
the forgiveness of transgressions,
in accord with the riches of his grace that he lavished upon us. 
In all wisdom and insight, he has made known to us
the mystery of his will in accord with his favor
that he set forth in him as a plan for the fullness of times,
to sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth.

In him we were also chosen,
destined in accord with the purpose of the One
who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will,
so that we might exist for the praise of his glory,
we who first hoped in Christ. 
In him you also, who have heard the word of truth,
the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him,
were sealed with the promised holy Spirit,
which is the first installment of our inheritance
toward redemption as God’s possession, to the praise of his glory.


(Mark 6: 7-13)

Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two
and gave them authority over unclean spirits. 
He instructed them to take nothing for the journey
but a walking stick—
no food, no sack, no money in their belts. 
They were, however, to wear sandals
but not a second tunic. 
He said to them,
“Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave. 
Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you,
leave there and shake the dust off your feet
in testimony against them.” 
So, they went off and preached repentance. 
The Twelve drove out many demons,
and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.