Mark 1: 21-28
There is a powerful urgency here in Mark’s Gospel that is easily missed because of the way we read the Bible. We are most likely to read the Bible in small doses. We take a verse, or section or maybe a chapter of scripture and read it to gain insight for our daily living. Devotional reading is quite valuable to the soul, but we can see different aspects of scriptural truth when we look at the sweep of the story. Let’s look at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel more from a literary perspective to see what the author intends.
The first chapter of Mark is very compact and action oriented. In a mere 28 sentences, we have the ministry of John the Baptist, the baptism of Jesus, the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, the arrest of John, the calling of the disciples, and this first episode of teaching and healing in the temple in Capernaum. That’s six scenes in 28 sentences. Mark is in a hurry to tell this story. Matthew and Luke take almost 5 chapters to get to this point. The next thing we find is that the most common word in this first chapter is “immediately.” In Mark’s Gospel, the word “immediately” appears 31 times in only 15 chapters. It is used more than the words faith, hope and love.
Mark is telling us that Jesus is a man on a mission. At times we can see Jesus as a teacher, someone who takes the time to listen, but here in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is action-oriented. We read that Jesus amazed people with his teaching. He teaches as one with authority. We aren’t told a single word about his teaching. In fact, in the entire Gospel of Mark, there is only one major parable, the parable of the sower. If you want to know what Jesus taught, you better go to Matthew and Luke. Mark is telling us how Jesus lived and how he died.
In the Mark reading today, we meet our first demon. We shall meet many more of them before Mark is done.
In Mark’s Gospel we face an unholy trinity, the ugly threesome of demons, disease, and death. Jesus is seen confronting and overcoming each of them in turn. They’re inter-connected, of course. Professor Alan Richardson says, “Someone in the Gospels who is possessed or ill is simply suffering from “a mild attack of death"”.
Jesus was teaching in the Synagogue – teaching with great authority – when a man possessed with an unclean spirit made himself known. He spoke, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”
Jesus rebuked him, “Be silent, and come out of him!”
And there was a convulsing and crying and he came out.
This was Jesus' first exorcism – not quite as dramatic as the movies would have it, but an exorcism never the less.
Exorcism is a very old church rite. It was once a part of the baptism service. I’m sure that we could turn a few heads if, at a Confirmation Service, we performed an exorcism. But that’s what used to be done. Don’t panic, I’m not planning it; we don’t do it anymore… not very often anyway… But I wonder if we don’t maybe need an exorcism?
Now, I’m not suggesting anything dramatic, like a horror movie; but maybe we are a little bit possessed, what do you think? I’m not talking about a powerful evil spirit that changes and controls you – I’m thinking about something else. In the Gospel the man possessed was in church – don’t you think that that’s intriguing?
One might assume that he was a regular attendee or the story would have mentioned that he had just wandered in and everybody stared. I also note that the manifestation of his possession by the demon is not mentioned, as one might expect if it was a dramatic possession. (They don’t mention him screaming or wrecking things or talking in a supernatural voice…. Not very Hollywood.) I think maybe that this man was suffering some kind of subtle possession that people hardly noticed. Maybe he didn’t even know that he was possessed.
How many times have we caught ourselves saying things that we would never say, if we really thought about it?
Well that figures, none of them know how to drive properly!
What do you expect from a woman?
I wish they wouldn’t come to my country.
That old fool.
Well, what do you expect from that kind…
I've heard all of these things said in the last couple of months - from the mouths of people I know and respect. People who would deny being racist, sexist, ageist - people who value all human life and would never try to defend such statements when brought to their attention - but they said them. So maybe we can be possessed without even knowing it.
Maybe we can sit in church and love the hymns and the prayers and have an evil spirit hidden, festering inside us.
A donkey found a lion’s skin left in the forest, by a hunter. He dressed himself in it, and amused himself by hiding in a thicket and rushing out suddenly at the animals who passed that way. All took to their heels the moment they saw him.
The donkey was so pleased to see the animals running away from him, just as if he were King Lion himself, that he could not keep from expressing his delight by a loud, harsh bray. A fox, who ran with the rest, stopped short as soon as he heard the voice. Approaching the ass, he said with a laugh: “If you had kept your mouth shut you might have frightened me, too. But you gave yourself away with that silly bray.”
A fool may deceive by their dress and appearance, but their words will soon show what they really are.
Here in the gospel, Jesus' words in the synagogue show him for what he is: one who taught with authority, not like the scribes. In other words, he, his life and his actions, embodied his message, and he spoke with confidence. Because of this he astonished his listeners by his teaching. Although he appeared as one just like them, his words truly gave him away as the Messiah.
As soon as the man possessed by the evil spirit spoke – he was exposed. Our words reveal our thoughts – which often contain hatred and prejudice. Jesus' words revealed God – and people marvelled how he taught with athority.
We need to ask ourselves, do we merely give the appearance of being a follower of Jesus, or do our words and actions "astonish" others by demonstrating that we really are?