Ascension – Let’s talk about Demons & Snakes in Mark…
The second ending of the gospel (written sometime in the early 100s) shows Jesus sending the eleven forth to continue his mission… and then some. But, demons & snakes? Yikes!
Jesus wages war against demons in Mark’s gospel to convey the breadth and depth of his ministry. Jesuit scripture scholar, Brendan Byrne, SJ, addressed this at the end of his highly-accessible commentary on Mark, A Costly Freedom (p. 263):
“My suggestion at the start was that the demonic is essentially about control: the control of human life by forces, frequently transpersonal and socioeconomic, that stunt human grown and freedom, alienating individuals from each other and from their own humanity. The narrative of Mark unfolds in a series of scenes showing Jesus liberating people from demonic control in favor of the coming Rule of God, which he proclaimed…”
Jesus healed and cast out demons as a way to reveal the in-breaking of the Reign of God, the Day on which God will be all in all, which will be disclosed totally only on the Last Day. All of a sudden at some point, he leaves off to engage the scribes & Pharisees in controversy and to teach the Twelve and disciples.
In other words, Jesus sent the Eleven and the other disciples out as those also burdened by alienation and envy. Remember how they fought like cats & dogs about who’s the greatest and, like Peter, wanted Jesus to take the path toward success and victory rather than death and resurrection. Their resistance to Jesus’ message served as a foundation for their mission – because they understood the ins and outs of resistance in others!
As for snakes… A few possible interpretations. They will handle the craftiness of evil, the violence of rebels, and serve the on-going divine project of conquering the evil that lurks deeply in the human heart. And they do this as those who know craftiness, violence, and evil in themselves.
Genesis 2:25–3:1 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
Numbers 21:6–9 Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.
Isaiah 27:1 On that day the Lord with his cruel and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will kill the dragon that is in the sea.
You and I need the power of the Spirit to melt our hearts so we can become ambassadors of peace and reconciliation.