So with this passage we run aground on two issues.
First we meet with what scholarly commentators on Mark call the Messianic Secret. Jesus, as depicted in Mark deliberately conceals who he is, that is to say, goes forth performing all manner of miracles, and yet deliberately forbids disciples (and exorcised demons) from publishing his status as the Christ. There are a number of attempts by scholars to explain this behaviour and generally the historical critical scholars attribute this to Mark’s narrative strategies and not to Jesus himself.
If they are right, then we have a Messiah, whose divinity was hidden not only from the people he came to reach but possibly also from himself. I find this theologically interesting. If Jesus was/is the Christ but didn’t know it until very late in his ministry (if ever) then he becomes a powerful role model of acting on our leadings and best judgments even in the absence of certainty or complete knowledge. It also explains Gethsemane. Because if Jesus knew in an absolute omniscient sense that he was divinity incarnate, destined to be resurrected and glorified, then the whole passion narrative, from sweating blood in Gethsemane to his cry of pain on the cross — makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever.
And so I hold to a doctrine of incarnation that makes Jesus fully divine, but in becoming fully human, he emptied himself of the royal perogatives, including knowledge of his own divinity.
The second issue that messes with our (post) modern minds is exorcism. Can’t help but see exorcism through the lens of Hollywood horror flicks with their pea soup and SFX.
If we see exorcism as narrative strategy then Jesus is mucking about exercising the very authority he’s denying. If my Jesus, unaware of his divinity, that makes exorcism a social and religious practice — something that we could expect ourselves a his disciples to be called upon to do as well.
So how to understand this? For me the notion that these folks just didn’t get mental illness, and that exorcism is just another kind of physical healing — but of brain events instead of body maladies — doesn’t work for me. I think these healings are seen as different in kind and degree to healing dropsy or blindness.
My way in is the powers and principalities theology taught by Berkhof, Stringfellow and Wink (among others). John Dominic Crossan also goes there to an extent. Exorcism then becomes a kind of emotional healing for those whose symptoms are caused by internalizing the social and political oppression in their society. It is both healing and psycho-drama and a witness to the established order that its rule is about to come to an end.
That model appeals to me. Partly as I have worked in a few workplaces that could use a good exorcist in that sense. Indeed. I know a few churches that could use a good exorcist. But that takes us back to Revelation. And we’re reading Mark.