Sunday, January 31, 2021
The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
As we continue our Sunday stroll through Mark’s telling of the good news story, it strikes me just how clipped it sounds if the Sunday readings are our only experience with this story. Mark’s is the shortest of the 4 tellings of the story. In approximately 20 sentences1 Mark introduces the story (the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God), has Jesus baptized and sent into the wilderness for 40 days, and returns him to Galilee to recruit disciples and begin his ministry. Whew! I need more coffee to keep up.
So, the first thing Jesus and his disciples do is go to Capernaum, a fishing village on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. And, on the sabbath they did what they’d probably done every sabbath of their whole life – they went to the synagogue for prayer and study.
Different from some of us may be used to at church, any member of the synagogue could read from the Torah and offer the meaning of God’s word to the congregation. This particular sabbath, Jesus read and taught.
Mark tells us he taught with authority and not as the scribes. Scribes were torah scholars who taught with the authority of the rabbi whom they followed, much like we modern day preachers regularly quote theological texts to lend our words credibility. But Jesus didn’t do this. He didn’t offer anyone else’s teaching but his own as he shared the meaning of God’s word.
The congregation was astounded. We like to keep ourselves comfortable and read this in a positive light thinking that the congregation was pleasantly surprised, even proud of by the way Jesus spoke. But that probably wasn’t the case. First of all, he’s going against “the way we do things around here” and we know how well that typically goes over in church.
We can hear the whispers and see the looks that express so loudly “who does he think he is?!” But the only one to actually speak is one described as someone with an “unclean spirit.”
We don’t put a lot of stock in demon possession these days and so most of us pass over these stories as archaic and having no purpose for our well-educated, enlightened 21st century lives. But, I’d venture to say, that we can all picture at least a couple of folks we’d describe as having an unclean spirit – those people who are angry at everyone and everything, who look for what’s wrong in every situation and are’t shy about saying what they think it is.
I wonder how Jesus would re-tell this story today?
Imagine with me, if you will, sitting around your dining table or in your living room with five or six of your favorite people. There’s lots of yummy snacks and beverages and everyone is sharing stories as the conversation flows naturally from topic to topic. One of your favorite people, sharing the charcuterie board and drinking a glass of wine2, is Jesus. (Please, picture him dressed in modern clothes and a decent haircut and facial hair. And, please, for the sake of all that is well-educated, do not make him fair-skinned with blue eyes and a spiral perm. However, I must admit to giving Jesus a west-Texan accent saying “y’all” a lot.)
We step into the scene in your house with Jesus saying, “that reminds me of the time early in my ministry. I was in the synagogue on the sabbath and it was my turn to read and speak. It went ok but I could sense the people squirming in their seats a bit as I finished and a few of them were whispering about which rabbi I might have gotten my information from.
After the final blessing, as we were heading over to the coffee station, this one man started to come toward me and from across the room we could all tell he was very angry. People stepped aside to give him room and he walked right toward me shaking his fist.
“Why are you here and why are you trying to shut me up?” he yelled, “Your words of love and kinship with God offend me.”
I let him walk right up to me and I looked him in the eyes and said, “you are God’s beloved child.”
The silence in the room was deafening. He stared at me for a long time and then his features began to soften. His fists opened and he put his hands on my shoulders, holding on for dear life as his knees buckled under him. “No one has ever told me that before. Is it really true?3”
The people who had just minutes before stepped back, came toward us, encircling this man in their community, letting go of their own anger toward this man for disrupting their comfort, amazed at what they had just witnessed.
Anger and hate possess us and stop us from hearing God’s loving voice. Jesus speaks into the shouts of anger and the silence of resentment and can dispel them both. God’s love transforms our shaking fists into hands open enough to both receive and give love.
Imagine how the conversation in your living room will continue as y’all discuss those things that get in the way of hearing that you are God’s beloved child. What do you need to have replaced by the power of God’s love?
1Depending on which translation you are reading.
2I offer as my authority: What Would Jesus Drink? A Spirit Filled Study by Joel McDurmon
3This retelling comes from a true story shared with me by a friend.”