Mark 1: 21-31
Mark goal was to establish that Jesus was Messiah
Mark wanted to show that Jesus was the ‘Son of God’. So he emphasises how the crowds and the *disciples were very often astonished at Jesus’ actions. Jesus made the storm on the lake become calm (4:41). Then the disciples asked, ‘Who is this?’ Evil spirits recognised who Jesus was.
Today I want to explore two outcomes with you.
- Ø What happened in the story and
- Ø What the story means for you and me in our lives.
People of faith believe in Jesus because of who we believe he was and is; but what about people who do not believe in him, or who wonder about his true nature, or even for ourselves when our faith weakens: what then can be made of his teaching with authority?
When he is heard as one who teaches with authority, as one who knows what he is talking about, and he expects people to accept it and to obey his commands
- Ø What are people to make of it;
- Ø How are they to judge? How well founded is that authority?
- Ø You might then say, ‘Who is he?’, or even, ‘Who does he think he is?’
When we ask that sort of question, we are in much the same position as those who first heard him teach in the small village synagogue at Capernaum on the shore of the Sea of Galilee as told in our story from Mark.
I wonder if you can imagine yourself in that position…
- Ø What authority does Jesus have and on what grounds does he have that authority from your perspective
Today I want to explore two outcomes with you.
- Ø What happened in the story and
- Ø What the story means for you and me in our lives. For Jesus to have authority and significance in our lives what do we look for and need that gives Jesus any authority or significance in our lives.
2. Teaching with authority
There was no doubt in their experience that he was no ordinary teacher. They were amazed at how different his teaching was:
- · (Mark 1:22) They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.
The people are amazed not that he teaches, but at the authority with which he teaches. What did they mean?
- Ø Did he rant and rave? Did he shout?
- Ø Was he ‘so sincere’, a quaint blessing bestowed on earnestness by people baffled by intensity?
- Ø Was he clever with rhetoric,
- Ø an adept story teller?
Our best guess is to look back at 1:14-15. He taught about the kingdom.
I doubt if Jesus engaged in elegant intellectual analysis of the scripture competing with lawyers and priests.
‘And not as the scribes’ in 1:22 is an important clue.
How did they teach? From Mark’s gospel we would have to conclude that much of the teaching by lawyers, priests and scribes was concerned with fine points of interpretation of the Law.
How did Jesus teach?
Well …we don’t know but we do know from Mark that people were impressed and could see the meaning he gave….it made a difference to their thinking and action
And from the rest of the gospel we would have to conclude that Jesus’ teaching must have focused on central themes like God’s compassion and interest in our liberation.
Jesus taught about …what does it mean for living…Jesus cut to the essence…His parables were direct, hard hitting, exposing the practical truths.
Often where the truth was laid bare for us to draw our own conclusions…Jesus said “who do you see as your neighbour?”
In Mark and elsewhere we find Jesus often teaching with a directness which drew on common life experience rather than derivatively by interpreting scripture. This had the effect of shifting the power base of knowledge from the experts (in scripture, lawyers/scribes/priests) to the common people, who all knew about common life experience.
It was a different way of doing theology, which democratised the process. This may have been in Mark’s mind.
From the perspective of the New Testament as a whole it makes a lot of sense.
3. Casting out Demons…
Then they saw the strange encounter with the evil spirit. The point of the story is not anything about whether we should believe that such demons exist as the people of his day understood the world; but about the way that Jesus dealt with a power of evil.
In this village Jewish meeting place where the people gathered, for them the existence of evil as a spirit which possessed, or influenced a person from within, was simply assumed.
What excited the people who saw it was his authority in that confrontation.
The way Jesus dealt with evil, was the same as his teaching: They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching–with authority!
- Ø The confrontation is described simply but powerfully. ‘What on Earth (the hell?) are you doing here?’ could translate the first sentence.
- Ø It is desperately confrontational, because the demon recognised that Jesus could destroy its power.
- Ø ‘The holy one of God’ says what it means.
- Ø Jesus silences the demon and demands he depart. The demon does so, but not without yelling at the top of his voice.
- Ø The exorcism is achieved. The demoniac has been liberated.
Yes we can worry about Demons and Evil Spirits…what was happening in terms of our science…our modern understanding of psychology and mental illness.
For those of us brought up with strict scientific methods such accounts of exorcism call for more informed explanations.
We feel so strange that we may want to avoid them altogether.
It is then very hard to appreciate Mark who has made them so central. There are ways of slipping past the awkwardness we feel.
The trouble is we may end up slipping past the message of Mark.
However we understand exorcisms, those reported from the ancient world or from present day cultures unlike our own, something real is happening. People are being set free. Physical contortions and hugely dramatic moments will occur in many different therapies, whether the frame of thought is demonology or modern psychotherapy.
Does it require the breaking of known biophysical laws of creation that govern behavior of the universe as we know it? Do we expect God’s intervention to suspend the operation of the laws established in the creation? Thus a huge set of questions is exposed and we need to examine them…but not now.
Sufficient to say is that a great deal plays around what we mean by miracles. Miracles for me are something that is beyond experience and explanation by what we know.
For me I can see space in God’s creation for what is described here in Mark to have happened.
- Ø Does it matter how it happened if we lose sight of what it means… in seeing who the man Jesus is and what authority Jesus has for you and me.?
- Ø What is the higher level meaning which Mark sought to give us?
What are some of the meanings here?
- Ø The important thing is liberation, setting people free. This is an essential component of the “good news” of God’s reign.
- Ø This is what Jesus demonstrated with authority. He was clear in what he said and the way he acted that God’s compassion and love for us sought our liberation in person and in community.
- Ø It is a demonstration of what is meant when John predicts that Jesus will baptise with the Spirit. For Mark exorcising unclean spirits is a primary function of the Holy Spirit and the key element one should recognise in what Jesus is doing.
- Ø His actions was evidence that Jesus was the Messiah
- Ø Jesus had authority…ring of truth that convinced. “He spoke with authority”, “the common people heard him gladly”, “never man spake like this man”…JB Phillips
4. If Jesus has that “ring of truth”
- Ø ….authority as Son of God…what does he call us to attend to?
- Ø Identify and deal with evil…deal with it with integrity
- Ø Liberation and transformation …renewal is possible
God seeks wholeness and health in a universe that God created in which death illness pain and suffering is an essential part of that creation…the dark side without which the beauty, grandeur, diversity, wonder, joy and ecstasy of life and the creation would not be possible. The evolutionary process is indifferent…geological and hydrological process is indifferent…So the suffering pain disease mental and physical I see evidence that in this painful dark-side God wears the pain (Bill Woolcock).
Let me quote from a paper by our own Bill Woolcock.
“I conclude that God created knowing the suffering that would ensure for the creation and for God….So the suffering which is outside human control appears to be the cost of freedomness….So I conclude that God thought it was worth all the pain to make free creatures, in whom there would be intellectual achievement, imaginative creation, deep emotions, contemplation of beauty, virtues like courage and compassion and profound experiences of relating to other humans and to God. God wears the pain. God is present in all our human pain.”
My experience and evidence allows me to join with Bill in that God is present with us in all our human pain. God takes responsibility.. is with us in that pain and seeks wholeness and healing.
This story in Mark has the ring of truth for it tells that Jesus had authority and that God seeks wholeness.
- Ø In the synagogue was a man whose mind was unbalanced. In Peter’s house was a sick woman…both of whom Jesus healed. In both cases we get the impression that the cure was instantaneous, and that to bring wholeness of mind and body was regarded by Jesus as of equal importance with teaching as the mission of the Messiah.
- Ø Now we know that Mark is writing about the kind of teaching which liberates, which discerns the demonic powers which oppress people (whatever the intellectual framework used to identify them) and seeks to bring about new beginnings.
We are sometimes closer to Mark’s account of the exorcism when we are doing pastoral care, although wisdom teaches us that we are mostly not competent to handle such situations and should seek appropriate resources. The kingdom of God in Mark is good news because it brings liberation at a number of levels. The central thing is enabling people to be how God made them to be. That must involve addressing powers and gods that enslave. The more we understand how they work, the richer our understanding of redemption.
Mark leaves us in no doubt about what constituted good news in his world, what the kingdom means, what happens when the Spirit ‘baptises’ people. The last thing Mark wants is for us or our congregations to be left behind when we encounter his opening scene. One of the skills of the pastor is to create the space, the ‘synagogue’, where our madness can come face to face with the holiness of Jesus. As Bill loader suggests “That also means coming to terms with our own madness.”
Jesus confronts the demonic spirit head on, silencing it and breaking its power over the one it had spoken through. And the people marvelled all the more. “What is this?” they asked one another. “A new teaching, and with authority!
He stands firm against even the most devilish powers, and they back down before him.” And “at once”, Mark tells us, “his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.”
But for us, we gather here this morning because we have put our hope in Jesus, in the leader whose actions have consistently backed up his words and whose integrity and courage have continued to cause us to marvel for two thousand years.
We gather here because we have found in him the leader who can enable us to see how we too are enmeshed in the demonic ways of darkness and give us the hope and the courage to follow him in breaking free and finding new life and hope.
As we gather here words are prayed and lives are offered. Evil is confronted and brokenness is embraced that wholeness might be known. Jesus and we give ourselves to one another that salvation might be tasted and the tormented might be set free.
And we gather here because it is here that we are fed and nourished for what lies ahead, for the journey of turning our words into actions.
And that our covenant might be lived out and that we might be the people Jesus has called us to be.
This story of a typical day in Jesus’ ministry in which he teaches and acts with authority, challenges evil and delivers wholeness…does it have the authenticity, the ring of truth to convince us to go into the world as his ambassadors, representing and promoting Christ’s values of life, wholeness, love, forgiveness, reconciliation, peace, and sustainable stewardship in the places where we live, work and play?
If you were sitting in that Jewish meeting house and had seen what Mark describes would you be convinced that Jesus had authority to challenge, change and empower your life.
That is the questions you and I must ask this morning.
By John Williams
Acknowledge use of material from:
Professor Bill Loader at: http://wwwstaff.murdoch.edu.au/~loader/MkEpiphany4.htm
Rev Nathan Nettleton at: http://laughingbird.net/ComingWeeks.html
Professor Bill Woolcock (1999) “God and Purpose (Chance and Freedom )”, drafted 12.04.1999. Personal Copy.