January 29, 2006 - Year B - Epiphany 4

Mark 1:21-28

 21 They went into the town of Capernaum and Jesus began to teach in the synagogue during the sabbath assemblies. 22 The people were astonished at the way he taught, for he spoke as one having authority and not like the teachers of the Law.

 23 It happened that a man with an evil spirit was in their synagogue 24 and he shouted, "What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: You are the Holy One of God." 25 Then Jesus faced him and said with authority, "Be silent and come out of this man!" 26 The evil spirit shook the man violently and, with a loud shriek, came out of him.

27 All the people were astonished and they wondered, "What is this? With what authority he preaches! He even orders evil spirits and they obey him!" 28 And Jesus' fame spread throughout all the country of Galilee.

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Notes from [The Community Christian Bible

• 21. Mark has shown us how Jesus began his public life: he became part of a movement of conversion that had shaken everyone at the call of John the Baptist. It was then that Jesus began preaching and met his first disciples.

Mark will now give us a "day" in the life of Jesus. Through his words and actions a power that impresses every witness becomes manifest. At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus preaches in the synagogues. The synagogue is the Jewish house of prayer. People gather each Saturday for the chanting of the Psalms and the reading of the Bible. The one in charge preaches and invites others to join. This is where Jesus reveals himself. He is not like the teachers of the Law who repeat, interpret, and give others' opinions. Jesus speaks on his own and he speaks with authority, "In truth, I tell you."

• 23. With the same authority Jesus drives out demons. This act also contains a message: Jesus delivers us from the influence of the Devil, who strives to destroy those created in the likeness of God.

This "Master of this world" (Jn 14:30) is present in all human business and culture to deceive human purposes and converts any progress into new slavery.

In Jesus' time, but much more rarely in the Church's time (our time), there were some persons possessed by the Devil. Jesus freed quite a number of people from this slavery and disease. Physical possession is not the usual way of the devil's activity in humans. The Devil operates (far more dangerously because we do not feel it) in the moral life of people. He blinds and confuses them with regard to the truth, disguised as the angel of light (2 Cor 11:14).

Not that the Devil is the cause of every sin and evil that people do. There is also the selfishness of our "flesh" and the lure of the false promises of "the world" but the Devil, as enemy of God's kingdom, is never at rest. He always nurtures our temptations. With holier persons who are not easy to tempt in a direct way, he goes about deceiving them persuading them to give more importance to their own good purposes than to the advice of others and the teaching of the Church.

The Devil notices at once those who are capable of weakening or destroying his empire. Then he awakens the bad, the mediocre, the foolish and the ill fated against them. That is why wherever Jesus goes the Devil also appears.

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Comments by Wesley

1. Jesus . . .  "teaches with authority. This authority is not derived from certification but from audacity. Established authorities teach in reverent relation to tradition, establishing their positions by reference to the written word and its conventional interpretation. By contrast, Jesus speaks plainly and directly, without bothering to legitimate his views by reference to anything or anyone else. It is this audacious freedom with respect to sacred text and tradition that provokes the astonishment of those who hear.... The history of Jesus is the history of this astonishment." [The Insurrrection of the Crucified: The "Gospel of Mark" as Theological Manifesto by Theodore W. Jennings, Jr.]

We always seem to be ambivalent about authority - desiring to use it, fearful of using it, seeing its potential and its danger. We are astonished when we find we have authority and it effectively cuts through a dilemma or when another uses this kind of authority to actually act for the betterment of a situation.

2. "... Paul had put forward (or appropriated for his own purposes) the claim that '...no one can say that "Jesus is Lord" except by the holy Spirit' (1 Corinthians 12:3). This criterion is utterly overthrown by Mark's narrative, not only here but throughout the gospel. The danger which lurks in Paul's use of this criterion is that if it is taken literally it leads to a view of faith which is merely ideological. By placing the Christian confession here in the mouth of the unclean spirit, Mark demonstrates that the mere confession that Jesus is Lord, Christ, or 'holy one of God' is by no means an adequate definition of faith. It may just as well be demonic. Those who loudly proclaim the 'lordship of Christ' may, for all their 'spirituality,' be demonic. The test of an authentic confession is not ideological or theological but ... practical." [The Insurrrection of the Crucified: The "Gospel of Mark" as Theological Manifesto by Theodore W. Jennings, Jr.]

We have a way about us that only looks at Jesus and not at the rest of the scene. What does it mean for the crowd to be astonished (what kept that from being a regular state of affairs)? What does it mean for "a demon" to confess and Jesus to say be quiet? Where is our own level of astonishment these days, our own confession, and our own humble quietness awaiting a deed and not more talk?

3. "Whatever you decide [about what unclean spirits look and sound like], remember that Epiphany is the season of revelations. Remember that just because ordinary life is lived without spirits and demons, that does not mean that evil is not real. Remember that part of our responsibility is to participate in a revealing of what opposition to the goodness of creation looks like, for real." [Provoking the Gospel of Mark: A Storyteller's Commentary, Richard W. Swanson]

Epiphany can be an observational sport, like looking for cows on a road trip. Where can we see glimpses of revelation, new ways of living together? Better for Epiphany to be a practice time for participating in revelation, that our lives be part of a revelation. What audacious act of justice will you try in the middle of winter/summer (depending on your hemisphere)? What would surprise yourself and those around you? Time to try it and evaluate how it went.

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