What Have You to Do With Us?
“Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” – Mark 1:23-24
Jesus had just come out of the wilderness, called his first followers, and was in the middle of his first sermon in Capernaum. Then a man “with an unclean spirit” showed up yelling, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” What a way to start a ministry!
Actually I can’t think of a better story to begin the good news of Jesus Christ. His first miracle isn’t walking on water or feeding the multitudes. It’s healing someone with “an unclean spirit,” a 1st century description of mental illness.
Then, as now, such persons were often among the most isolated and vulnerable people of their communities. Yet there are more accounts of Jesus’ caring for persons with mental illness than all other healing stories combined. That says something about his ministry—and also ours.
Moreover when Jesus met the man in the Capernaum synagogue or other persons with “unclean spirits” or demons, he didn’t condemn or judge them. He didn’t address their faith issues or need for forgiveness as he did in other healing stories. Instead he differentiated between the “unclean spirit” and the person it was attacking, a person who deserved his compassion and help. If such understanding was important for Jesus, then it’s important for the Church.
Jesus began his ministry by healing the man “with an unclean spirit.” This story is also a good way to begin this World Suicide Prevention Day. In our time, as in Jesus’, persons with mental illness and those who love and care for them, often echo the Capernaum man’s cry, “What have you to do with us?”
“Quite a bit,” Jesus answered unequivocally. That needs to be our answer, too.
Hear our prayer, Lord, for those afflicted with mental illness and those who care for them. Hear our prayer, too, for our congregations to respond with Jesus’ compassion and understanding. Amen.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.
Stillspeaking Small Group Discussion
Talitha Arnold is Senior Minister of the United Church of Santa Fe (UCC), Santa Fe, New Mexico. She is the author of Mark Part 1 and Mark Part 2 of the Listen Up! Bible Study series and Worship for Vital Congregations.