Reading: Mark 1:21-24
Our Sunday School lesson spoke of Jesus’ authority. When he taught, he taught with authority, not like the scribes; then it moves on to give a list of one healing after another; and next week we will talk about another healing. This passage has Jesus teaching in the temple, it has Jesus teaching the synagogues all over Galilee — but, like all of Mark, we don’t know what he is teaching, we know what he is doing and we know that when people hear Jesus, they are impressed.
The only thing Mark tells us about Jesus’ teaching is that the people were astounded, because he spoke with authority, and not like the scribes. It is difficult for me to guess what this means, and I don’t find even a hint what this might mean in Mark’s gospel — but if I check other sources I have enough to make a guess.
When I check the Talmud, I see the writings of many Rabbis; everybody cites an authority outside themselves — and while they might disagree with their peers, it is clear that they are interpreters, not authorities. if I look at examples of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew and Luke, I see phrases such as: “You have heard it said\… but I say to you.” In speaking like this, Jesus is establishing himself as enough of an authority that he can make a new statement. This power is very significant when he says thins such as: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” (Matthew 5:38-39)
Now, I know people will quote the first part of this to speak of revenge. I’ve even once heard somebody say: “An eye for an eye” when asked his favorite Bible passage. Of course, people who say “An eye for an eye” rarely have any desire to follow it. An eye for an Eye is found in both Exodus and Deuteronomy — this is the law of revenge stating that revenge is not to be punitive, but equal to the injury suffered. An eye for an eye condemns the great acts of revenge we are used to. Using this standard, we cannot justify killing hundreds of thousands to take revenge on the death of thousands. This is true, even though I’ve seen this verse used to justify exactly that.
Jesus, however, speaks with authority. The scribes are under the authority of the Torah — they can talk about what it means, but they cannot say these words: “But I say to you.” Jesus calls for forgiveness, instead of taking the allowed and measured vengeance. Jesus says, instead of taking the vengeance allowed by law, I tell you to forgive and take none at all. Jesus spoke with such authority that he was willing to offer an alternative instead of deferring to it. To quote John, Jesus spoke with authority, because he is the Word of God, made flesh.
As soon as people were shocked at Jesus speaking with authority, he started healing people. The first person he healed was right at the synagogue. The man was disruptive — he was, according to scripture, demon possessed. Now, these days Americans don’t use the words demon possessed very often; no, we use words such as mental illness. I can’t say whether demons were more active at that time than now, or whether we have come to a better knowledge of what is actually going on — I suspect that it is the second one though there are times when I look at a malicious kind of crazy, and I am nearly convinced that it is demonic. To tell the truth, if I had the power to cast out demons, and could see a disturbed and malicious man made whole again I would do it right now . I do know I can pray to the One who demonstrated that he is the One who does miracles.
Following the healing man who was, in our current language, mentally ill Jesus went to Simon’s house, healed Simon’s mother-in-law from her fever, and then healed “many who were sick and cast out demons; but he would not permit the demons to speak because they knew him.” He preached, and healed and preached and healed – and the section ends with him healing a man with leprosy — the most dreaded illness of his society — it was not only a death sentence, but it was an illness that would separate you from society the rest of your life. If one recovered, there was a process for being examined, declared in good health, and return to the community, but recover would take a miracle — of course, Jesus the divine healer and miracle worker healed him.
Mark tells of of a miracle worker who takes the place of John who has been arrested. We are not told what Jesus teaches and preaches beyond a few words: “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the in the good news.” In these words, we have what is so dangerous, and yet what is such good news: God’s kingdom is near. I’m no miracle worker, but I can offer this good news as well. No matter how far the governments of the world seem from God — God’s kingdom is near. I believe that for us God’s kingdom is even here with us just as Christ is with us. One of the pious sayings I see on social media is the phrase: “It does not matter who is president because Jesus is Lord.” Now; I’m enough in this world to feel that it does matter, but there is something about this that rings true. Whether I’m in a nation full of people who honor God, from children to politicians; or if I find myself in ancient Rome during Nero’s reign, Jesus is Lord. The kingdom of God is at hand — it is so near I can reach out and grab it and make it part of my life. Nero was not strong enough to stop the mouths of Christians; for they reached out and grabbed the kingdom of God and proclaimed, even when it meant death: “Jesus is Lord.”