Fourth Sunday after Epiphany (Year B)

Our initial approach to this text is from a first person response to what took place on Sabbot at the synagogue in Capernaum, a city on the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.

January 29, 2012

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Commentary on Mark 1:21-28

Our initial approach to this text is from a first person response to what took place on Sabbot at the synagogue in Capernaum, a city on the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Were you at the synagogue in Capernaum today? I wasn’t sure I saw you and so I will tell you as clearly as I can what happened. I can only explain that something occurred that has never, yes, never ever happened before in our hometown synagogue where our people “gather together.” What took place is unlike anything our rabbis have instructed us in over the years. This was far beyond their teaching and authority.

Sabbot worship started out like a routine, very normal gathering. We all came with the usual expectation. Now don’t get me wrong, our rabbis are faithful interpreters of the Torah as they instruct us in the Word of the Lord, but their teaching does get to be routine. Everything was progressing as usual, the prayers, the Psalms, the reading of the Torah, when a newcomer “immediately” entered the synagogue and began teaching and instructing us, dare I say, with a new “authority” (Greek, exousia). His authority was not as our scribes. When I use the word “authority” about his teaching, you know that the word also includes the power to “exorcize” demonic spirits.

I am still in shock as to what happened next. “Immediately” a deranged person screams out. No one in the synagogue had a clue as to what brought forth this outburst. It appears an unclean spirit had identified this rabbinic-like teacher as one who had authority to exorcize and called out to him by name: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” The voice was a shrill demonic-like scream. How did this spirit know the name of the rabbi from Nazareth? Did the voice really assume that this teacher has the authority to exorcize demonic or unclean spirits?

The scream continued with words of blasphemy using the name of God: “I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” With this a hushed silence came over the entire synagogue as these words were spoken. The rabbi named Jesus from the hill country of Nazareth sensed the offense of these words, the identity of the Holy One of God. He addressed the possessed man and rebuked him with exorcizing words which likewise silenced the entire synagogue, “Be silent, and come out of him.”

What occurred next was a demonstration I have never, ever, witnessed before. The man was writhing on the floor like he was in conflict with the spirits possessing him. Then the voice of a demonic spirit cried out with the same shrill demonic-like scream. The unclean spirit came out of him and he appeared to be calm. He stood up and in his right mind looked as normal as any of us.

Needless to say we were all overcome and amazed and kept saying to one another, “What is this? A new teaching — with authority he exorcizes a demon possessed person!” What took place we saw with our own eyes that he commanded even a host of unclean spirits and they were obedient to him. On my oath this is what took place on this Sabbot. I can’t explain what came over us, but it was like we gave witness to the rabbi from Nazareth as our praise to the one, holy and righteous God in our midst. We have no other experience like this to compare. We have since heard that what took place in our synagogue “immediately” spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

The evangelist of the Gospel of Mark has selected this exorcism story to inaugurate the public ministry of Jesus. In the Gospel we are “immediately” faced with the story of Jesus’ exorcism in the synagogue of Capernaum (1:21-28). Our text for this Sunday follows the title and promise of the Gospel (1:1), the identity of John the Baptist (1:2-8), Jesus’ baptism and voice from heaven (1:9-11), God’s Spirit driving Jesus into the wilderness and encounter with Satan (1:12-13), Jesus’ announcing of the presence of the kingdom of God and call to repentance (1:14-15), and Jesus’ calling of Simon, Andrew, James and John (1:16-20).

We have experienced early in our hearing from the Gospel of Mark a story which proclaims the lordship of Jesus Christ. This text is just as present for us as the experience in this first century story and world. The immediacy of the story is continuously present as the adverb “immediately” appears three times in this brief story (1:21, 23, and 28). The evangelist emphasizes the immediacy of God’s reign and rule breaking in and present in the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth.

In this world of demonic powers that continue to enslave us, Jesus has broken its hold. The hold of the evil one has no power over us. We pray in the Lord’s Prayer “deliver us from evil,” when the Greek text of the Gospel of Matthew reads “rescue us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13, New Revised Standard Version). We too have been rescued from the evil one and restored in our right minds through the lordship of the crucified and risen Christ. This is an epiphany in our lives present in the Word of God.

How do we live with this dramatic story of exorcism from a first century world in our so-called sophisticated 21st century world which questions such? Whether in the first century world of a healing in a synagogue in Capernaum or in our gathering of worship today, the kingdom of God, the reign and rule of God’s power and authority is manifested in Jesus Christ. This is an epiphany story now in our proclamation for all who gather to worship the one, true God on January 22, 2012.

“The Holy One of God” is our title for the Christ. He alone breaks into our world of possessions to free us to live in his authority to exorcize the powers of this age.