Today, Jesus comes to us not only as a Friend but also as an Exorcist. Therefore, Jesus comes to us not so much with consolation but, even more, with a call to courage.
I encounter Jesus in this way because, as usual, my preparation for Sunday shadows my devotion on Thursday. On Sunday morning, I will preach Jesus casting out the unclean spirit called Legion (Mark 5:1-20). On Sunday evening, I will teach the Lord’s Prayer petition, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:13) In such realms of spirit-world, I feel out of my depth and not sure how to proceed. So I need my Exorcist-Friend to give me courage.
As I reflect on what spiritual courage looks like, two figures come to mind. One is Mary, the mother of Jesus, at the time of the Annunciation. When the angel passed on God’s birth announcement to this young woman, she found herself facing a future filled with uncertainty and pain. As Simeon would later prophesy to her, not only would her son live as one spoken against, but a sword would pierce her soul as well. (Luke 2:33-35) And yet Mary inspires all disciples with a courage that says, “Here I am; I am the Lord’s servant-girl. Let it happen to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:38, Tom Wright translation)
The second figure who comes to mind is Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and what he called his Kitchen Epiphany. During the Montgomery bus boycott, Rev. King received death threats. One in particular almost led him to give up. In Stride toward Freedom, King writes that, as he took his fear to God, “I experienced the Divine as I had never experienced God before.” In a speech, King said of that moment, “It seemed I could hear an inner voice saying to me, ‘Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And lo, I will be with you, even until the end of the world.’ I heard the voice of Jesus saying still to fight on. He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone.”
I feel awe when I consider that, as I pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one,” Jesus is also praying to our shared Father in heaven with these words: “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.” (John 17:15)
God protects and delivers us from the evil one not by leading us into escape from the world but by calling us to contend for justice and truth in the world. And in our secular age, one way we can embody courage in the struggle is to seek God in prayer that leads to public witness. In his Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke puts it as follows:
“This is in the end the only kind of courage that is required of us: the courage to face the strangest, most unusual, most inexplicable experiences that can meet us. The fact that people have in this sense been cowardly has done infinite harm to life; the experiences that are called it apparitions, the whole so-called “spirit world,” death, all these Things that are so closely related to us, have through our daily defensiveness been so entirely pushed out of life that the senses with which we might have been able to grasp them have atrophied. To say nothing of God.”