In Mark 1:21-28 we hear about Jesus’ first acts of his ministry following his baptism by John and his time in the wilderness. Last week we heard about Jesus calling his first disciples, Simon, Andrew, James and John and now, on the Sabbath, Jesus and his disciples have gone to the synagogue and there, Jesus begins to teach.
There is power in his teaching, his healing, his proclaiming. There is authority in the content and in his way of speaking. This quiet man, who lived in Galilee is revealed as a confident preacher and teacher and those around him are astounded and amazed.
The encounter between Jesus and the unclean spirit as part of his teaching is told abruptly, with the unexpected display of divine power in response to human need.
My own reflection is how much of our human existence is made up of violence and judgement of others, and it so habitual and normal we don’t see it any more. We are constantly surrounded by violent acts of injustice, privilege and discrimination, together with the rejection of those who are ill, poor and different, that the only way for Jesus to reach humanity is by countering with divine power.
Jesus casts out the unclean spirit.
We are told, those around him exclaim as they experience, see and hear this ‘new teaching, done with authority’ done by this man who is preaching and teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath.
The implication is clear, what Jesus teaches in the synagogue is not a body of knowledge, scholarly expertise, philosophical enjoyment and professional information following years of study and work; it is the embodiment of authority over the forces of evil and a clear-sighted understanding of the gap between words and deeds or behaviour.
Jesus’ words and acts are wound tightly together, such that the power at work in the healing is active, even today whenever and wherever Jesus’ words are proclaimed.
Jesus is unique among all teachers, in that he is the kingdom of God drawn near, the eschatological future breaking into history. All authority rests ultimately on the authority of God, expressed in the one who is, as the demon powerfully confesses, the ‘Holy One of God’.
It is interesting the only one who knows the identity of the teacher is the unclean spirit. How is it Jesus’ name and identity is confessed, not by the people or the religious leaders in the synagogue, but by the spirit opposing Jesus? What sort of confession is this?
We hear Peter confessing later ‘You are the Messiah’ (Mark 8:29), but he still did not understand the nature of Jesus’ Messiahship; in particular, that it will require him to suffer and die.
The only true confession in Mark comes in the story of Jesus’ death. Having heard Jesus’ cry and then seeing him die, the centurion, a Gentile, confesses, “Truly this man was God’s Son!’ (Mark 5:39).
The identity of Jesus is always hidden in Mark’s stories, and ultimately his identity is not revealed solely by his acts or his teachings, but by his death. Jesus’ identity is not revealed until it can be understood in the light of his crucifixion and resurrection.
Jesus’ teaching reveals the genuine confession of our faith needs to see and experience the time of the cross and the resurrection of Christ as only then the mystery and gift of faith are revealed. However, until then, Jesus, the Holy One of God, silences the unclean spirit so it will not reveal his identity.
The unclean spirit perceives Jesus as invading their domain. Jesus responds to the spirit with immediate action, calling it to come out of the man.
The spirit convulses the man and leaves him, and the observers are amazed at this ‘new teaching, with authority’. The authority of Jesus is clear to the spirits, this is the Holy One of God.
To the demons, Jesus belongs to the kingdom of God, not in the sphere of history. The kingdom has drawn near though, eliminating all the old boundaries and powers and it is now claiming history and all creation for the kingdom.
What we see here is not simply the human interaction between Jesus and the afflicted man; it is the eschatological or ‘end of times’ conflict of the kingdom of God and the forces of evil as the kingdom of God draws near and takes over. Those watching and listening see this great expression of God’s love being acted and spoken out in God’s kingdom.
The unclean spirit immediately obeys Jesus’ command; in effect, recognising its power of the human realm is ended. Jesus has indeed come to destroy the powers that threaten and demonise human life.
In our lives, such demons and such idols that possess us include all kinds of addictions, money, sex, alcohol, drugs, gambling, power over others, and consumption to the point of destroying God’s creation. These are the demons and idols in our lives today, which are visible to those who love us, as anger, hatred, violence and despair, loneliness and self-destruction.
These idols are called out in Jesus’ rebuke the demon, to Peter, and to all those who seek to deflect or delay Jesus, in his authority and power, as Jesus names and destroys those that are destroying us.
Here Jesus frees and liberates those who suffer, as part of his work of salvation with love and compassion. It shows us as a church, we must be about the ministries of healing, of mental and physical relief, of care and generous living in community.
God is with those who suffer, in whatever ways this occurs. God in Jesus enters into our suffering. In Jesus’ kingdom activities, he expresses a defiance of the power of destruction which enslaves humanity with destructive behaviours of all sorts. Jesus’ exorcism of the unclean spirits in his ministry is this action against the forces that ruin and rob life of the fullness God wants us to experience.
All the miracles of healing are acts of Jesus’ love and care, and of free grace brought into the work. Such grace is offered freely and abundantly by Jesus, for all who suffer, bringing them relief.
This Jesus we hear about in Mark’s Gospel is a man who appears knee-deep in the Jordan being baptised as the heavens are opened wide, indicating the reign of God is set loose on earth.
The Jesus you hear about today, is a Jesus who cares about those who are suffering; who brings words and actions together; who sees the real world and is alongside us and who went ahead of us; who is busy gathering up the threads and knitting together the fabric of creation for all who love God.
This Jesus is showing us the kingdom of God is at hand, and the glimmers we can see call us now to action like the man who was freed from the unclean spirit, and as disciples called by Jesus’ so can we be cleansed, healed and freed to follow Jesus.
The Lord be with You.