On March 21, 2006, a social media pioneer Jack Dorsey did something no one had ever done before—and it had a profound impact on all of us.
He sent out the first Tweet.
“Just setting up my Twttr,” he wrote. The rest is history.
As of this month, Twitter reports there are 500 million Tweets per day sent from around the world.
There are 100 million daily active Twitter users.
One of them, of course, is President Trump, who has 47 million Twitter followers.
Not far behind is Pope Francis, with 40 million followers in nine different languages.
We live in an age when communication is instantaneous, when no thought goes unexpressed, when more voices are being heard by more people—for better or worse. And a lot of it is happening—again, for better or worse—on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other kinds of social media.
We are inundated with information: sound, images and words. It could be argued that words have never been more powerful or pervasive than right now.
But if you want to know the true power of words, consider one word uttered by Jesus in this Gospel we just heard—a word that changed a life and that actually made history:
With that one command, the man who would go on to calm a storm at sea calms the raging storms inside one anonymous figure in the synagogue.
With that one word, a miracle of healing will begin.
Forget all the trillions of words cluttering up your cell phone, voices crying out for attention. Here is the voice of authority.
It’s a great irony, really: the scriptures this weekend again and again call us to listen to God, to hear his voice, to attend to his teaching. But the word that commands the most attention is a call for silence.
It certainly got the attention of the people in the synagogue—and the man possessed. Sometimes God’s most astonishing work needs silence. It can set the stage for miracles.
We don’t know much more about this particular episode in Mark’s gospel. The man possessed by an unclean spirit is one of those characters in scripture who appears, and then vanishes. Like so many who encounter Christ and are changed forever, he’s never heard from again. We don’t learn what happened to him.
But maybe we don’t need to know.
What matters is that he encountered Christ and was transformed.
In that sense, it is a story that should resonate with each of us.
It’s significant, I think, that this early miracle in Christ’s ministry—the first one Mark tells us about—is profoundly personal. It didn’t entail feeding thousands or bringing someone back from the dead. No, this is one-on-one, and it involved an interior transformation.
I think it’s also significant that this event took place in the synagogue—place of prayer, teaching and tradition. It reminds us that Jesus was a faithful Jew—and part of a particular culture and history.
On one level, of course, this event is a morality lesson. It is about good conquering evil. But it also involves a conversion of heart and mind and spirit.
It is the healing of a troubled soul. At the very outset of his public ministry, Jesus gave the gift of peace.
Even now, he offers comfort to the anxious, calm to the distressed, hope to those in despair.
How many of us here today need that message? The world is starving for it. We live in a time when many are suffering from demons they might not even be able to name.
But this gospel offers us reassurance. Whatever unclean spirits might be afflicting us, Jesus can call them out.
His first word to that troubled man is his word to all of us, no matter what may be possessing us: Quiet. That is where the great work begins.
Confronting this Gospel today, we need to ask ourselves: what parts of our lives do we need to make quiet? What inner demons, what unclean spirits, are keeping us from hearing God?
Maybe it’s jealousy. Pride. Lust. Maybe it’s prejudice or hatred toward those who are different.
Maybe it’s even fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the future. Fear of trusting God’s will in our lives.
How can we make ourselves more open to truly hearing his word, and letting it change our lives?
Pray to make that happen, to tune out whatever is getting in the way, to lower the volume of daily life and find times to be quiet with God.
Honestly: stepping away from social media can be a good start. And I say that as one who makes his living working in social media.
This week, Pope Francis issued his annual Message for World Communications Dayand talked about how “Fake News” is infecting our media. He invited everyone to promote a “journalism of peace,” a journalism, he explained “created by people for people, one that is at the service of all, especially those – and they are the majority in our world – who have no voice.”
I might add, in the words from today’s psalm, “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”
Our culture today, indeed the very culture perpetrated by social media, can harden our hearts and deaden our consciences and give rise to anger, conflict, hatred, and even despair.
It can be the root cause of unclean spirits.
It doesn’t need to be that way.
Pope Francis, at the end of his message, composed a prayer modeled on the familiar “Prayer of St. Francis.” He prayed:
Lord, make us instruments of your peace…
where there is shouting, let us practise listening;
where there is confusion, let us inspire harmony;
where there is ambiguity, let us bring clarity;
where there is exclusion, let us offer solidarity;
where there is sensationalism, let us use sobriety;
where there is superficiality, let us raise real questions;
where there is prejudice, let us awaken trust;
where there is hostility, let us bring respect;
where there is falsehood, let us bring truth.
Of all the voices echoing around the world right now, the one that matters, truly matters, is that one that quieted that troubled soul in the synagogue 2,000 years ago. The one who spoke with authority—and still speaks to us today.
As we gather around this table of sacrifice and raise our voices together in expectation and hope, may we do it with hearts that have heard that voice.
May we allow the word of God to quiet our own fears or uncertainties, open the door to our hearts, and let him in.