The Fourth Sunday after The Epiphany
Pastor George Pejakovich
Mark 1:21-28

AS I MENTIONED LAST SUNDAY, THE GOSPEL OF MARK IS WRITTEN IN A TERSE STYLE, AND WITH A SENSE OF IMMEDIATE ACTION THAT PACKS A LOT INTO A FEW VERSES. IT MOVES ALONG QUICKLY FROM THE INTRODUCTION OF JESUS AT THE JORDAN WITH JOHN, HIS FORTY DAYS IN THE WILDERNESS BEING TESTED BY SATAN, THE CALLING OF HIS FIRST DISCIPLES, AND NOW HIS FIRST APPEARANCE IN THE SYNAGOGUE AT CAPERNAUM. IN THIS SHORT ACCOUNT OF THE SYNAGOGUE SERVICE, MARK SETS UP THE DYNAMIC TENSION THAT WILL CARRY THROUGHOUT HIS GOSPEL, AND FIND ITS CULMINATION AT THE CRUCIFIXION OF JESUS AND HIS RESURRECTION. THAT TENSION IS THE CONFLICT THAT THE PRESENCE OF JESUS BRINGS TO THE WORLD OF THE NATURAL AND THE SUPERNATURAL; THE CONFLICT OF THE WORLD AS IT IS AND AS IT OUGHT TO BE. WHEN I TAUGHT PHILOSOPHY AT WEST POINT, ONE OF THE THINGS I DRILLED INTO MY STUDENTS WAS THAT YOU CAN’T GET TO WHAT OUGHT TO BE FROM WHAT IS; OUGHT MUST BE INTRODUCED FROM BEYOND WHAT IS. IF THAT MADE YOUR HEAD HURT, DON’T WORRY I’LL EXPLAIN.

JESUS COMES TO THE SYNAGOGUE AT CAPERNAUM, AND BRINGS SOMETHING NEW. THE PRACTICE OF THE TIMES WAS FOR THE MEN PRESENT IN THE SYNAGOGUE TO TAKE A TURN EACH WEEK TO READ THE TORAH AND MAKE REMARKS ON THE TEXT; SORT OF LIKE A SHORT HOMILY. SINCE FEW WERE LEARNED SCHOLARS OF THE LAW, AND EVEN IF THERE WERE A SCRIBE, A TEACHER OF THE LAW, AMONG THEM, THEY WOULD RELY ON QUOTING THE OPINIONS OF RESPECTED TEACHERS OF THE PAST. AS A NEW GUEST, JESUS WOULD HAVE BEEN GIVEN THE HONOR OF READING THE SCRIPTURES AND GIVING THE HOMILY. MARK DOES NOT TELL US WHAT TEXT HE READ, BUT HE DOES TELL US THAT WHEN JESUS SPOKE IT WAS UNLIKE ANYTHING THEY HAD HEARD BEFORE. HE SPOKE WITH AUTHORITY, NOT BY CITING OTHERS, BUT AS IF HE HAD THE KNOWLEDGE IN AND OF HIMSELF, AND THE RIGHT TO INTERPRET THE WORD OF GOD FOR HIMSELF. THIS WAS SOMETHING NEW, AND IT ASTOUNDED THOSE WHO HEARD HIM. THE WORD OF GOD HIMSELF WAS INTERPRETING THE WRITTEN WORD OF GOD, AND IT BOGGLED THE MINDS OF THOSE WHO HEARD HIM, EVEN THOUGH THEY DID NOT KNOW WHAT WAS HAPPENING. THUS BEGINS THE CONFLICT BETWEEN JESUS AND THE RELIGIOUS AUTHORITIES OF THE TIME.

AS SOON AS JESUS STOPPED SPEAKING, A COMMOTION BROKE OUT; A MAN WITH AN UNCLEAN SPIRIT YELLED 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!” I FIND IT INTERESTING THAT THE OTHERS WHO MARVELED AT THE AUTHORITY WITH WHICH JESUS TAUGHT COULD NOT SEE WHO HE WAS, YET THE MAN POSSESSED BY THE FORCE OF EVIL CLEARLY SAW WHO HE WAS. WHEN JESUS COMMANDED THE DEMONIC POWER TO BE STILL, AND COME OUT OF HIM, THE MAN WAS FREED FROM WHATEVER POSSESSED HIM, AND THE CONFLICT BETWEEN THE HOLINESS OF GOD AND THE POWER OF EVIL WAS MADE CLEAR.

WE, OF THE 21ST CENTURY, OFTEN FEEL UNCOMFORTABLE WITH STORIES OF DEMONIC POSSESSION, BUT IN MAKING ALLOWANCES FOR 1ST CENTURY UNDERSTANDINGS OF THE SPIRITUAL, THERE IS A PROFOUND TRUTH TO THIS LITTLE STORY. THE MAN WAS THERE IN THE SYNAGOGUE SABBATH AFTER SABBATH, AND SEEMED LIKE ANY OTHER NORMAL PERSON. HE MIGHT HAVE BEEN CONSIDERED AS A SOLID MEMBER OF THE COMMUNITY SINCE HE APPEARED TO BE SO DEVOUT; YET, THERE WAS AN UNCLEAN AND UNSEEN PART OF HIM THAT OPPRESSED HIM AND CONTROLLED HIM. TO UNDERSTAND THIS, WE NEED ONLY TO THINK ABOUT THE TRIAL OF THAT DOCTOR FOR THE WOMAN’S OLYMPIC GYMNASTIC TEAM WHO WAS CONVICTED OF SEXUALLY ABUSING OVER ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY GIRLS AND YOUNG WOMEN. UNDER THE GUISE OF RESPECTABILITY AND COMPETENCE, HE WAS POSSESSED BY HIS ADDICTION TO CHILD PORNOGRAPHY AND HIS OBSESSION WITH SEXUALLY ABUSING THOSE IN HIS CARE, EVEN UNDER THE SUPPOSED WATCHFUL EYES OF THEIR PARENTS. THIS IS SURELY A MAN POSSESSED BY AN UNCLEAN SPIRIT.

THERE ARE ALL KINDS OF POSSESSION WITH WHICH MANY PEOPLE STRUGGLE, BUT TODAY WE CALL IT ADDICTION. IT MAY BE AN ADDICTION TO PORNOGRAPHY, DRUGS, ALCOHOL, SEX, WORK, GREED, ANGER, JEALOUSY OR ANY NUMBER OF THINGS; YET THE COMMON THREAD IS THAT THESE ADDICTIONS POSSESS THE ADDICT AND CONTROL HIS OR HER BEING. THERE IS NO ESCAPE FROM THIS POSSESSION WITHOUT SOME EXTERNAL POWER THAT WILL BREAK THE CHAINS THAT BIND THE HUMAN SPIRIT. YOU CAN’T GET TO WHAT OUGHT TO BE FROM WHAT IS.

IN MOST CASES, WHAT CHANGES THE BEHAVIOR IS DISCOVERY AND THE FORCE OF SECULAR LAW; BUT THAT MERELY PUTS A STOP TO THE BEHAVIOR AND DOES NOT CHANGE THE HUMAN SPIRIT. A PRIME EXAMPLE OF THIS IS THE CIVIL WAR WE FOUGHT TO END THE EVIL OF SLAVERY; YET THE EVIL OF RACISM STILL POSSESSES MANY TODAY. WHAT IS NEEDED IS AN OUTSIDE POWER GREATER THAN THE POWER OF THE POSSESSION; AND THAT IS THE POWER OF THE SPIRIT OF THE HOLY ONE OF GOD.

JESUS CAME TO BREAK ALL THE CHAINS THAT BIND US, BOTH THE NATURAL AND SUPERNATURAL. HERE, IN THIS STORY AT THE BEGINNING OF JESUS’ MINISTRY, MARK ESTABLISHES THAT JESUS HAS COME TO OPPOSE ALL THE FORCES THAT PREVENT THE CHILDREN OF GOD FROM HAVING THE ABUNDANT LIFE THAT GOD WANTS US TO HAVE. HIS AUTHORITY IN INTERPRETING THE WORD OF GOD FREES US FROM THE HUMAN DERIVED RULES THAT SUPPRESS AND OPPRESS US FROM THE FREE WORSHIP OF OUR LOVING FATHER. HIS POWER OVER THAT WHICH OPPRESSES OUR SPIRITS GIVES US A WAY TO LIVE LIFE ANEW FREE FROM THE CHAINS OF THE FLESH AND THE WAY OF DEATH. WITH HIS COMING, GOD HAS ENTERED HIS CREATION, AND HAS BREATHE A NEW LIFE INTO THE WORLD AS IT IS, AND HAS OPENED THE WAY TO THE LIFE GOD INTENDED FOR US AND HAS SHOWN US THE WAY WE OUGHT TO LIVE.

WE CAN’T GET TO THE WAY WE OUGHT TO LIVE ON OUR OWN BECAUSE OF THE WAY THE WORLD IS. THE ONLY WAY IS BY THE HOLY SPIRIT WHICH SAVES US FROM THE CHAINS OF THE WORLD AND BRINGS US INTO THE KINGDOM OF GOD WHICH JESUS PROCLAIMED AND BROUGHT INTO BEING. THAT KINGDOM OF GOD, OF WHICH WE ARE CITIZENS NOW AND FOREVER, WILL ALWAYS BE IN CONFLICT WITH AND OPPOSED TO THE KINGDOMS OF THIS WORLD AND ALL THAT WHICH WOULD POSSES AND OPPRESS US. WE CAN LIVE NOW AS WE OUGHT TO LIVE, AS GOD WANTS US TO LIVE, AND WE LONG FOR THE DAY WHEN ALL THE KINGDOMS OF THIS WORLD WILL BE THE KINGDOM OF OUR GOD AND OF HIS CHRIST. THANKS BE TO GOD THAT HIS HOLY ONE HAS ALL AUTHORITY OVER US AND HAS EVERYTHING TO DO WITH US.
AMEN