Jesus the destroyer

File:Christus heilt einen Besessenen.jpg

Watching for the Morning of January 28, 2018

Year B

The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

A demon comes forth this Sunday. It rises up in the middle of church – in the middle of the sermon – as the crowds are marveling already at this lowly laborer’s audacity to preach – and cries out “What are you to us, Jesus? Have you come to destroy us?!” Or maybe that first expression means “What are we to you?”

“Why are you bothering us, Jesus? What have we done to deserve this? Keep on preaching like this and you will destroy us for sure.” You don’t have to think him demon possessed for such thoughts. Jesus’ challenge of the existing order is exactly why the leaders will put him to death. Mark alludes to it (11:18). John lays it out clearly: “So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, “What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.” (John 11:47-48)

How ironic it is that Jesus is accused of endangering the nation, when it is the Judeans themselves who rebel from Rome and rain destruction on their nation.

But there is a spiritual battle going on. The demon calls Jesus by name and reveals his identity: “I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” It is a standard notion that to possess the name of a spiritual being (god or demon) is to be able to control it. But the demon is helpless before Jesus. And the crowds are amazed – not by the presence of a possessed man (such people were common) but by the teaching. Jesus’ presumption of the authority to teach is confirmed by his command of evil spirits. He must rank above them to rule over them. Here is a ‘tekton’, a construction worker, but he has supreme authority over those powers that possess, drive and govern human life. It confirms his authority to teach. And the crowd is blown away: A teaching with new power. A teaching with new focus not on purity and law but compassion and fidelity to all.

So Sunday we will hear Deuteronomy promise a prophet like Moses who will bear God’s word to us. And the psalm will sing that God “has shown his people the power of his works.” And Paul will speak of the “one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” And the amazement of the crowds at the authority of Jesus will linger in the air and bid us to recognize that we are in the presence of a supreme authority. His teaching ranks above every other.

The Prayer for January 28, 2018

God of power, God of grace,
you have spoken by your prophets and in your Son Jesus,
to call us out from death into life,
from despair into hope,
from sin into forgiveness.
Deliver us from all that binds the human spirit
and free us to live in you for the sake of the world;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for January 28, 2018

First Reading: Deuteronomy 18:9-20 (appointed 15-20)
“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet.”
– Moses addresses the people after their forty-year journey through the wilderness, just before they enter the land, warning them not to imitate the religious practices of the Canaanites. Then, in a passage that will come to be heard as a promise of the Messiah, Moses declares that God will raise up a prophet for them.

Psalmody: Psalm 111
“I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart.”
– A psalm of praise that exalts the faithfulness and mighty deeds of God.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 8:1-13
“Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” – Paul continues to attack the distorted notion of freedom in the Corinthian congregation that fails to recognize the obligations of the members of the congregation to one another as the body of Christ.

Gospel: Mark 1:21-28
“Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘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.’”
– Having summoned Simon, Andrew, James and John, Jesus enters the town and begins to teach in the synagogue, astounding the community with his authority to teach and to command the spirits.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AChristus_heilt_einen_Besessenen.jpg See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“They brought to him all”

Friday

Mark 1

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Jesus healing the sick. Rembrandt, Christ Preaching (The Hundred Guilder Print).

32That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

It was not just Peter and his family that ‘immediately’ brought Jesus to his mother-in-law; as soon as the sun sets – as soon as the Sabbath is over – the whole town gathers at the door to Peter’s house, bringing all who are in need to Jesus.

We shouldn’t be distracted by the word ‘many’, as if it meant that Jesus healed many but not all. The sense of the word in Greek is that Jesus healed a large number of people. We get a better sense of Mark’s message if we hear it like this: “he cured lots of people who were sick with lots of different diseases and he cast out lots of demons.”

The authority of Jesus is not limited, and every attempt by evil spirits to gain control over Jesus fails: “he would not permit the demons to speak.”

There is a revolution at hand. In a world without antibiotics, a world before vaccines, a world without the concept of germs, a world without a system of water purification, a world where a broken bone can lead to sepsis and death, a world where half the children die before the age of five – a world where all these, including accidents, seem like the work of malevolent spiritual forces – not to mention a world of poverty and imperial tyranny – now, suddenly, there is a power of life in the very center of their town. They are being released from every form of evil. They are being released from every prison of spirit, mind and body. “Morning has broken.” The world of creation’s first Sabbath is in their midst. The new creation is dawning. The favor of God has flooded their city.

Can we imagine that such a people would ever take Jesus for granted?

A stunning display

Wednesday

Mark 1

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Salvator Mundi, unknown artist and date

21They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught.

Jesus, we know, is a ‘tekton’, a construction worker, a builder – perhaps a carpenter, perhaps a stone mason, perhaps both. There was a city going up near Nazareth, so there was work, but who knows what happened to drive him out to John the Baptist at the Jordan River. Perhaps it was the new city, a Greek city, built on the Greek model, built by and for the ‘Hellenized’, those who had acculturated to the then modern world.

It was happening all over the ancient lands of Israel. Gymnasia and theaters and forums. Arenas. Hippodromes. Places for the games celebrated in the cultured world. A changing world. Changing values. And the people, the peasant class, increasingly left behind. “Galilee of the Gentiles”.

Is this the life to which God called them? John said, “No.” And Jesus went to join him.

The Gospels never mention Sepphoris, the city being built near Nazareth. Jesus’ journeys take him through the villages and towns of Israel. It is, in some ways, a conservative movement, going back to the ancient ways.

But it was not conservative. The ancient ways were radical. A deep and abiding concern for the poor. A passion for justice. A provision for those in need. A provision that land was a gift from God to each family, not to be sold as if mere property.

This is the ancient faith of Israel, says Jesus, not the rituals and marketplace of their new wonder-of-the-world temple. Not the tithing of mint and cumin, not the manipulations of the law that allow you to leave a parent destitute, not the bleeding of widows.

Who knows for sure what happened to him in the waters of baptism. But power came on him. The Spirit descended. And who knows what happened to him out in the wilderness, where he was tested to the core and angels ministered unto him. But when he comes back, when he walks by his fellows by the sea he says “Now’s the time. Follow me.” And when Sabbath comes he lays claim to the teachers chair in the synagogue. Not like the teachers of the law, not by citing rabbi after rabbi, but declaring himself what it is that God commands.

He is a ‘tekton’, a construction guy. What is he doing preaching?! People were supposed to keep within their station in life. But Jesus is far beyond his station. He is speaking with the voice of God. And suddenly a demon cries out in recognition: “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.”

The translation should end with exclamations points.

Jesus has arisen to destroy the demonic. He has arisen to cast out the unclean spirits, the spirits unable and unwilling to serve the God of Israel, the God of exodus, Sinai and the Promised Land, the God who is the defender of widows and orphans, the God who would destroy his own house rather than have it corrupted, sell his own people into slavery rather than bless slavery. He has come to destroy – to destroy what binds and corrupts and devours. To set free a people from lies and illusions. To call the nation back to their lost way.

And the one who teaches with authority commands the demon and with great cries the unclean spirit must obey.

A stunning out-of-station display by a ‘tekton’ of questionable birth, Jesus the son of Mary.

And how will the community respond?

How will we respond?

Drama in Capernaum

Watching for the morning of February 1

Year B

The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

File:THE ANCIENT SYNAGOGUE IN CAPERNAUM IMG 2931 ITAMAR GRINBERG IMOT (14475139241).jpg

The remains of the synagogue in Capernaum that dates to the time of Jesus.

Sunday our readings begin with Moses promising that God will provide “a prophet like me from among your own people.” It is a promise that God will not leave the people without a witness to God’s voice – the voice they did not want to hear at Sinai. But the promise of a prophet like Moses becomes a hint of a prophet to come who will speak with the authority and power of Moses.

Against this backdrop, Jesus enters Capernaum with his new disciples in tow. Rising in the synagogue on the Sabbath he teaches with an astonishing authority – an authority that is shown to extend over the unseen realm as a man with an evil spirit cries out against him but is powerless before him. And with the psalmist we sing of the wonder and grace of God’s works.

“What is this?” asks the crowd. And the answer that has been proclaimed by Paul, that this Jesus is the Christ of God, is applied to a concrete question in the faith community: If the gods worshipped by the pagans are mere idols, what does it matter if we eat meat from their temples? It matters, says Paul, because you are the body of Christ. It matters because your sisters and brothers matter, and our freedom in Christ does not release us from the bonds of love.

The Prayer for February 01, 2015

Almighty God,
who by your word called forth the world
and summons us to life in you;
deliver us from every falsehood and deceit,
that we may praise your name,
and live each day to your glory;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for February 01, 2015

First Reading: Deuteronomy 18:15-20
“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet.” – Moses addresses the people after their forty-year journey through the wilderness, just before they enter the land, warning them not to imitate the religious practices of the Canaanites. Then, in a passage that will come to be heard as a promise of the Messiah, declares that God will raise up a prophet for them.

Psalmody: Psalm 111
“I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart.”
– A psalm of praise that exalts the faithfulness and mighty deeds of God.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 8:1-13
“Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” – Paul continues to attack the distorted notion of freedom in the Corinthian congregation that fails to recognize the obligations of the members of the congregation to one another as the body of Christ.

Gospel: Mark 1:21-28
“Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘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.’”
– Having summoned Simon, Andrew, James and John, Jesus enters the town and begins to teach in the synagogue, astounding the community with his authority to teach and to command the spirits.

 

Photo: By Israel_photo_gallery [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“Even the demons submit”

Friday

Luke 10

Giotto - Legend of St Francis - -10- - Exorcis...

Giotto – Legend of St Francis – -10- – Exorcism of the Demons at Arezzo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

17 The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’

We don’t live in the world of the first century.  For us the air is not filled with spirit beings interacting with those who dwell on earth.  The sky is not a realm where spirits composed of fire reside, visible at night.  We see earthquakes, disease and storms as natural processes, not events caused by unseen personal agents that can and should be mollified and propitiated.   Our whole concept of a “natural world” is foreign to the first century and their concept of a spirit world foreign to us.

Yet the language of spirits is not without meaning for us.  We know that we are vulnerable to forces and realities beyond ourselves.  Our lives are affected by such strange things as the “national mood” (quantified as “consumer confidence”) and “political will”.  Forces like racism and sexism, wealth and poverty shape our lives and opportunities.  Handsome people get jobs easier, earn more money, and are treated more considerately than ordinary people.  Tall people are treated with more respect than short.  Brunettes are perceived as more intelligent than blondes, etc.

And there are things that seem evil, destructive, beyond explanation, as though the human heart had been taken over by something.  Lives can be dominated and controlled by fear, anger, cruelty, addiction.

The seventy were sent out to every place Jesus was going.  Sent to heal and to announce the dawning of God’s reign, they were given authority to exorcise these unclean spirits.  Where Christ comes, lives are made whole again, fears and addictions dethroned.  Where Christ comes, the burdens of shame and guilt are lifted.  Where Christ comes, relationships and communities are reconciled and restored.  In the work of these followers of Jesus, sent where Jesus was to come, the powers that divide and destroy were driven out.

Too often we quail before such powers.  To often we retreat in fear.  We avoid confronting evil.  We lack the courage to name and renounce what is destructive – or we lack the skill to speak and act with the necessary grace.

We need the witness of these unnamed 70.  We need to see their faithfulness.  We need to hear their joy.  We need to be reminded of the power that worked through them to bring healing to the places they were sent.  We need to breathe their Spirit.

And we need to hear anew the voice of the one who sent them:  “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”