The Barrel

by The Rev. Dr John H. Pavelko
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Delving Into Deliverance
Year A - 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mark 1:21-28

Emily Rose

She was born in a small town in 1952. Her parents were devoted Catholics. Her father operated a saw mill. At the age of 16 when most teenagers were learning to drive a car, Anneliese began to have major seizures that caused her to be hospitalized for almost two years. The doctors diagnosed her with “Grand Mal” epilepsy. While in the hospital she began seeing demonic figures during her daily prayers. Later she heard voices saying “Anneliese will stew in hell.” She mentioned the voices to the doctors only once. They did not know what to do. They attributed them to epilepsy. Eventually Anneliese lost confidence in the medical treatments.1

Somehow the young girl was able to complete her secondary education and enroll in the university to study elementary education. She visited various priests requesting an exorcism. Before a Bishop would permit an exorcism, however, the person had to meet certain conditions—an aversion to religious objects, speaking in a language the person had never learned, and supernatural powers, to name a few. The Bishop rejected the request and advised her to live an more religious life but the attacks continued and even intensified.

Her behavior became more erratic. She began to insult and even attack members of her own family. The demons would not allow her to eat. She slept on the stone floor, ate spiders, flies and coal. She even began drinking her own urine. She could be heard screaming throughout the house. She destroyed crucifixes, paintings of Jesus and rosaries. She began to tear off her clothes and commit other acts of self-mutilation.

The Bishop finally verified the demonic possession five years after her initial request. Two priests were assigned to perform the Tiruale Romanum, an ancient rite from the 17th century. Over the next 10 months two exorcisms were held each week. During the sessions Anneliese became so violent that she had to be held down by three men. Several demons emerged including Lucifer, Judas Iscariot, Nero, Cain, Hitler, a disgraced priest from the 16th century, and some other damed souls. In the final months, she denied herself all food. Eventually, the ordeal took its toll. Exhausted and unable to move she said to her mother, “Mother I'm afraid,” and died.

The story of Anneliese Michel on July 1, 1976, shook the nation of Germany. They prided themselves on rational approach to life and faith. One theologian remarked that Germans “ a lot for the Third World but little for faith in a transcendent God. The German church is too cerebral.” He also noted that the church in Germany had been weakened by secularism.2

Recently, the story of Anneliese Michel was made into a movie, The Exorcism of Emily Rose. The location of the story was changed from Germany to the United States and some of the events were also altered but the basic plot and message were consistent with the real life drama. The movie has renewed a great deal of discussion over the activity of the demonic. When Anneliese was first plagued with demonic dreams, the secular world and even the church hardly took the notion of demon possession seriously. The movie, The Exorcist, had only been release two years before Anneliese's death. However, our society has a much different perspective on the spiritual world today. They have a yearning for spiritual experiences. People are now more open to believe in the supernatural and the activity of the demonic. However, this increase of awareness and interest has exposed many people to demonic forces through Ouija boards, seances, and other paranormal experimentations. Flip Wilson's, “The devil made me do it.” is no longer considered merely a tongue-in-check avoidance of responsibility but a real life possibility.

Over the last 30 years, the church has also seen an increase interest in the activity of the demonic. An anthropology professor from Fordham University spent two years investigating the revival of interest in the demonic among Christians and noted that in one year alone, over 600 deliverance ministries sprouted. During those two years he witnessed over 50 mass or individual exorcisms, dismissals or deliverances.3 For some interest has become an obsession. Some believers now blame headaches, addiction to pornography, alcoholism, chronic fatigue, homosexuality, nightmares, persistent anger and jealousy on demonic powers. Even common ills and aliments are being linked to evil sources and healed by demon expulsion. This has caused one author to ask, “Have Lucifer and his subordinates really chosen to raid the church in a more spectacular way?”

Whenever I consider the work of evil I always begin with CS Lewis' comment from his classic The Screwtape Letters. The book is compilation of letters written for a series of radio broadcasts during during World War II. The letters are between to Screwtape. An official in Satan's Lowerarchy and his nephew Wormwood who is learning the fine art of corruption. Lewis writes

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally please by both errors, and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.4

With this in mind the story from our gospel lesson provides us with some insight into how to balance our belief and interest in activity of evil in the world. For Mark's account, Jesus neither ignores the enemy's presence nor does become obsessed with it.

The Mission of Jesus

Both Mark and Luke record that the deliverance story is the first demonstration of Jesus power over evil. This is significant. Unlike John who begins with Jesus performing the miracle of turning water into wine behind the scenes or Matthew who does not record a specific healing until after the Sermon on the Mount, Mark is upfront and in your face. Mark wants us to know early who Jesus is and why he came. For Mark, Jesus is more than a good story teller. He is more than a wise man who delivers pithy words of wisdom. Jesus is more than just a good man who does good deeds. Through this story Mark declares that the mission of Jesus is to confront and overthrow the forces of evil.

This emphasis is affirmed in the actual story. The demonic spirit reveals his presence publicly by taunting Jesus with the words, “I know who you are, you are the Holy one of Israel.” The evil spirit's announcement is not an affirmation of faith but an attempt to gain mastery over Jesus by using his precise name. Through this exchange Mark reveals that in the mission of Jesus open warfare has been engaged in the cosmic battle between good and evil. While the ultimate victory is won on Easter morning, this battle will continue until the Kingdom of God comes in its fullness. Between then and now, we live in an interim period in which the people of God are to continue the mission of Jesus by battling the forces of Evil. During this interim period, many skirmishes will be won and lost. Many people, like that man from Capernaum and Anneliese will suffer terribly. However, the church will not alleviate their suffering by burying its head in the sand and denying the existence demons and the possibility of possession.

The Presence of Evil

Mark also wants us to know something about the presence of evil. The NIV tells us that the man is possessed by an evil spirit. A literal translation of the text would read that the man is “in the evil spirit.” By that Mark means that the man is fully immersed into the presences of the evil spirit. Demonic possession is not just an addendum. It is not just a scar upon the personality. Demon possession complete overwhelms the person. Yet in the story, Mark gives every indication that the evil spirit does not reveal itself immediately. The man does not enter the synagogue after Jesus begins his teaching. He is present from the beginning. I wonder how long Jesus knew that the demonic was present but hidden.

Evil is not always visible. Those who are possessed or oppressed may not display tangible signs in every circumstance. This makes ministry difficult and dangerous. It is easy to miss diagnosis. People may struggle with what appears to be a severe personality disorder for years without finding relief simple because the medical community is uncomfortable with considering the possibility of the demonic.

Mary was a college student who had episodes in which her pulse would sometimes shoot up to 150 or more beats per minute; she would black out and often end up in the emergency room. Cardiologists were unable to determine her conditions organic cause. They had her wear a monitor to track her heart rate. One day she visited a counselor who believed in and understood demon possession. During their conversation, Mary told him that the heart condition originated when a demon had startled her out of sleep.

The counselor decided to investigate a spiritual cause to her condition since he knew that her medical care had encountered a roadblock. He first made sure that Mary knew Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Secondly, he asked if she had any unconfessed sin in her life. After eliminating these potential possibilities, the counselor instructed her in how to address any afflicting spirit. When she did, her body experienced a shuddering sensation. After the session Mary recommitted her life to Christ. And the heart problem ended.5

Some may challenge the suggestions that Mary's condition was demonic related. It cannot be proved or disproved. Whatever, caused Mary's heart aliment, through prayer and faith, she is now healed. While some people need to consider that the cause of their aliment may have a spiritual source, some are too quickly assigning demonic activity to every form of aliment. They also blame the forces of evil for their own irresponsible behavior. We must be cautious and remember that only one person in the synagogue was possessed by a demon that day.

One Simple Truth

The story of the deliverance in Capernaum one Sabbath morning offers us many insights into the mystery of the supernatural enabling us to avoid irrational trust and skepticism. Qualified physicians and psychologists should always be consulted when medical symptoms and psychological disorders appear. Prescription drugs, surgery, and/or therapy may be the most appropriate course of action for symptoms that resemble demonization. We should refuse charlatans who mascaraed as faith healers or deliverance ministers but when an aliment does not respond to treatment, when a disorder appears resistant to therapy we should seek out a woman or man of faith, not an entertainer who relishes the grandiose but someone who speaks with the same humble authority that our Lord displayed in Capernaum. When we seek spiritual counseling, we should look at family background, unconfessed sin, the power of suggestion through movies and TV but we should also consider the possibility of the demonic. “We should admit that in some cases we may never be able to distinguish between direct and indirect ways in which the demonic may be attempting to thwart God's purpose.”6 Through it all we should remind ourselves of one simple truth, when God raised Christ from the grave, evil and all its manifestations were defeated. The battle has been won.

1“Annelise Michel,” Wikipedia, [online] w/index.php?title= Anneliese_ Michel &printable=yes

2“Emily Rose: The Real Story of Anneliese Michel's Exorcism, [online] /movienews_1253.html

3“Possessed or Obsessed?,” Agnieszka Tennant , Christianity Today, September 3, 2001, [online]

4C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, Preface, (New York: Macmillian, 1941), 3.

5Tennant, “Possessed or Obsessed.”


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