“Moses said to YHWH, “But, never in my life have I been a man of eloquence,
Either before or since you have spoken to your servant.”
4th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B:
4th Sunday after Epiphany Year B
Do We Know Who Jesus Is For Us?
Gospel Mark 1:21-28
This week, the Lectionary calls us to the Book of Deuteronomy (18:15-20), the last book of the Torah.
We read; "Moses said to the people: 'Your God will raise up for you a prophet like myself, from among yourselves ... to him you must listen." As Christians we see these words fulfilled in Christ who came to serve and liberate others from whatever weakness, struggle or bondage they may find themselves in. In the gospel today (Mark 1:21-28) we discover that Jesus is not just a prophet like Moses, but far more than that. Mark tells us that Jesus had an authority in his teaching that went beyond that of the religious leaders, and even beyond Moses. In his power to heal and liberate the demonised man, Jesus reveals his divine authority. It can be tempting to take our experience of Christ and use it for our own ego glory, as if we are somehow better than others because we know Christ. The glory of God that is revealed in Christ is authoritative and powerful, but it is the power to serve, and, an authority to liberate.
Modern people tend not to like this type of story and dismiss it as fabrication or try to psychologise it away. Some will try to defend it and the sceptical reject it. We need to distinguish between the phenomenon and our interpretation of it. Often, I have felt the fear of something mysterious outside my ability to understand. It is not that these things like Jesus exorcising a demon do not happen, they do, but how do we interpreted with our western frame of reference. We have our conditioned prejudices, that close us to certain truths and open us to others. All this changes the nature of how we read the story. We may not want to admit that our culture defines us, and what we can see. Still, we are able to say something about the events in the synagogue of Capernaum.
There is no question whether this happened. The witness of Mark is that it did happen. Now and then some people believe this, and some people do not. We are called to believe, to trust the report. It is not a question of what or how it happened. within our 20th century bio-medical healing model it is often unclear how healing occurs. In this paradigm we treat symptoms, but the healing is something else. The question we need to ask is; what does it mean? In the social setting of Capernaum and Galilee people are powerless, held in place by culture and convention with little or no opportunity to change. In the synagogue evil sits in the midst of holiness. The scribes have no authority.
Jesus comes with something new. Our experience of catharsis is that it is so often temporary or a violence against others and not real freeing or cleansing. In Jesus we see a real cleansing power that drives out the uncleanness that invades even our holy places. If we are honest all of us, are somehow powerless and enmeshed in the context of our existence. As we worship we have luxury that most of the world cannot afford. We are destroying ourselves environmentally. We often feel powerless, caught in the structure of where we are. Any attempt at change can cause deep pain and fear to arise and excuses to be made as we flee from the truth of the prophet. We need Christ with his new teaching and new authority, to break the bonds which hold us fast. His true healing brings together our many parts into a beautiful wholeness.
Jesus' new teaching is a truth which breaks into the pain and powerlessness of our personal conditioning and cultural structures. It heals our cultural structures and our separation from God and offers to make our social structures a supporting place to be, a place to be at home, rather than a prison of delusion and deception. One kind of "evil spirit" which we discern more easily today is the cry that can burst out of us or others when we are mentally unwell. It alienates us because of the separation and fear it causes us and others. In our culture, we tend to think of mental illness only in bio-medical terms− brain drug levels out of balance. However, much of what is experienced is a rupturing of relationships, a wounding of soul. Often this rupturing (dis-ease) is the key issue for healing. Drugs can sometimes restore the balance very quickly. However, the recovery of self-esteem, the trust of self and others, and the regaining of trust from others, is a much slower and more difficult task; and communal integrity is not so easily restored.
The healing Jesus gave to the demonised man was the weakening of the forces of his isolation. Something has to break into the void between and in us. In Mark, it is Jesus' resurrection. When our sickness is terrifying, and there is deep psychological pain, we need to let go of our security and reach out to an unpredictable other to find resurrection freedom. If we long for God’s reign to be seen in us, and happen through us we will have to let go of having things done “our” way. Yet, when we embody Christ’s liberating grace, by choosing to serve and live Christ's gospel values, the authority of Jesus can be most clearly seen in us.