In the passage, the people contrast the preaching of Jesus with their regular scribes and teachers of the law: He speaks with authority, like he knows what he is talking about, not like the teachers of the law.
Now, if we place ourselves in the text and begin to imagine and feel the dynamics, one can begin to feel the sense of tension and the sense of threat that the scribes and teachers of the law would have been feeling at that point. They were deeply threatened that this young up-start preacher was going to upstage them. Deeply threatened that his new teaching would not only undermine their authority, but maybe even the traditions that they felt it was their duty to protect.
In the midst of what could only have been a very tense moment, we see that a man possessed with what is described as an unclean spirit / impure spirit speaks out: “What do you want with us? Have you come to destroy us?”
Who is the “us” that is being referred to? Who is this man speaking on behalf of?
On the one hand some would interpret this as a demon speaking on behalf of the demonic under-world. But there is another possible interpretation, the man possessed with an unclean spirit is in fact a symbol for the collective unhappiness of the synagogue authorities. The man with the unclean spirit speaks out loud what they are all feeling in their hearts. “What do you want with us? - who do you think you are? Have you come to destroy us? With your new teaching, have you come to destroy our religious traditions?
What is perhaps even more fascinating in this passage is that the religion of the scribes and pharisees was a religion obsessed with issues of purity.
How fascinating that in the midst of this sacred gathering of people who were obsessed with rules of purity, we have an unclean/impure spirit that begins to speak on their behalf.
What will come out later in Mark's Gospel is that Jesus says that the real purity is not a religion of external rules and rituals that make you pure. The real purity is a purity within, about what is happening in the human heart.
The man possessed by an unclean spirit stands as a symbol of all religion that on the surface puts on a mask of purity, but underneath there are all sorts of demons at work. Egotism, backstabbing, gossip, toxic judgementalism…
The text invites us to look carefully within our own hearts. What are the demons within our own hearts that work beneath the surface? What are the places of uncleanness within our own hearts – those places where we are 'figuratively speaking' possessed by an unclean spirit; those attitudes within that are toxic that have the potential to cause division within our relationships, within our families and within our communities? What are the places where we feel threatened or offended by others?
What could it mean in humility to acknowledge the demons at work within us and to hold them into the light of Christ, that the mind of God, the mind of mercy and compassion, might dwell within us?