The Holy Gospel according to Mark, the 1st Chapter: "They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 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.' "
But Jesus rebuked him, saying, 'Be silent, and come out of him!'
And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, 'What is this? A new teaching -- with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.' At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee."
Bless this word proclaimed, and we who hear it, O Lord, that our lives may give witness to the authority you have on us. Amen.
Over the past months, many conversations have been had, heard, and shared about the word 'authority.' These conversations have included, but not been limited to the use or misuse of authority, who does or does not have authority, along with the authority someone does or does not have. These conversations have taken place throughout media and news outlets, among family members, friends, and faith communities.
Authority is defined as the power or right to give orders, make decisions, or enforce obedience. It can be a power to influence or command thought, opinion, or behavior. Authority can be one invested with this power, or used to make or influence decisions over others.
Years ago, while babysitting a neighbor's child, the child refused to what had been asked of them. Looking me square in the eye, the child declared, "I don't have to. You're NOT the boss of me!"
In our Gospel from Mark this morning, the authority of Jesus comes front and center. Already this Epiphany season, Jesus has been identified in the first chapter of Mark alone as King of the Jews, Son of God, Lamb of God, Messiah, a preacher, and, for the past two weeks, one who calls disciples. Today, Jesus' authority is revealed as both a teacher and an exorcist. The scribes and others in the synagogue are both amazed and impressed by Jesus' authority. The amazement and impressiveness comes from the wisdom, knowledge, and relevance of Jesus' teaching rather than from a new teaching in and of itself.
Being fully Divine and fully human, Jesus teaches with an authority the scribes do not, cannot possibly have. Jesus teaches about God because he is God. In this teaching about God, Jesus teaches in love. Teaching in love is different from what the scribes do. The teaching done by the scribes was such it left those who heard it and those who tried to follow it chained to a way of life that was difficult at best to keep. Mind you, it wasn't that those who heard and followed the teaching of the scribes didn't try their hardest to obey the authority and teaching of the scribes. They did.
Rather, the teaching of the scribes carried with it a large amount of legality as well as consequence of what could or would happen if the letter of the law was not followed.
Jesus' teaching, on the other hand, is teaching done in love. The teaching and the love displayed in this teaching points to love, and in this love, freedom rather than legality. This teaching is such that even a demon, an unclean spirit recognizes the life and freedom Jesus teaches about. Knowing this, the demon asks what Jesus would have to do with them.
It is a subtle, yet interesting switch in pronouns: a man, first person singular, speaks in the third person plural: 'What have you to do with us?"
This is not a mistranslation from the original Greek handed through the centuries, but rather, Mark using the demon to speak for the scribes. Later in Jesus' ministry, the scribes themselves will question by what authority Jesus proclaims good news and brings healing to all in need. For now, the demon recognizes Jesus for who he is: the demon dashing boundary breaking Son of God that he is; the Holy One of God.
Hearing these words come from the mouth of the man with the unclean spirit, Jesus commands the spirit, to first be silenced, and then to come out. For the longest time, Jesus silencing the unclean spirit has always seemed off, if not a bit strange. Since Jesus came to bring good news, proclaiming the kingdom of heaven is at hand, wouldn't Jesus want even unclean spirit and demons to recognize his authority?
Reading a commentary this week provided an aha moment of clarity:
In the culture of Jesus' day, to name someone or something meant that whoever did the naming had more authority than the one being named. In other words, the demon's naming of Jesus as the Holy One of God is not that Jesus does not want to hear this BUT because it would mean the demon, the unclean spirit has more power, more authority than Jesus.
When you're Jesus, the Son of Man, and the Son of God, this simply cannot be. It cannot be because it goes against every grain of Jesus' ministry of calling people to repent, to believe in the good news, because the kingdom of God has come near.
Today's encounter with the unclean spirit is not once and done. It will be the first of many Jesus has throughout his ministry. These encounters are reminders confronting evil, confronting the unclean spirits even in our own lives is not once and done, but it takes constant courage to proclaim the truth in love, to be strong, and to resist the devil and all his empty promises. They are reminders too evil continues to exist in the world today, and of the need to rename them. Because when we name the evil, we are the ones who claim authority and power over evil, rather than evil placing a claim on us.
For Mark, Jesus is the strong Son of God who entered the world where forces of evil continue to work even today. We don't always see these forces of evil, but they exist. They are present. And as we heard and read in today's gospel, they exist even in the community of faith. In his teaching and his relationships with others, Jesus brings with him the power to health, to help, to give life, and to restore.
THIS, dear friends, is the life intended for us. Not one held back by that which separates us from God, but a life of freedom, of health, of healing, of restoration.
Among the authority figures and representatives in our lives, may you know, hear, and believe the authority Jesus has upon your life: the authority and claim made upon each of us in the waters of our baptism: we are God's and God loves us.
Pastor Traci Glover