For the 4th Sunday -
A Homily for 2.1.15
from Mark 1:21-28
edited from a
a Homily posted 1.29.12
THE Lectionary Gospel reading for today comes from St. Mark's Gospel, and it is a lesson in the authority and the power of the living and risen Christ.
St. Mark takes us to a Capernaum synagogue on the sabbath and lets us see Jesus amaze his hearers as one who taught with authority -- "that is one who needed no external support for his words." (Lamar Williamson) But apparently, Jesus authority didn't stop with his teaching. No, his authority extended to the vanquishing of an unclean spirit -- "that is an invisible being neither human or divine and hostile to GOD" -- from a man who was present in the synagogue. (again, Lamar Williamson)
And so, in today’s homily I want us to think-through the idea of Jesus’ authority.
Anointed with the Holy Spirit and carrying a deeply personal and internalized calling, Jesus is the Spirit-empowered one, sent from GOD and presenting himself to the people (in this case the Capernaum synagogue) as their one, true Messiah. But he was not the Messiah his contemporaries expected! His authority over the words of the text and the spirits of darkness was meant to tell his original hearers, and us, that the one promised from the prophets and poets is now here, now at work, and now beginning the reclamation project of GOD's good world.
And what must be seen is that this authority did not exhaust itself with the preachings and the healings, for later on in Mark we read that Jesus’ authority extends even to his province to forgive sins:
At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, "Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, "Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, "Stand up and take your mat and walk'? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"—he said to the paralytic — "I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home." And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!" (Mark 2:8-12)
In fact, this text points out that we would here do well to remember several Gospel texts that designated Jesus as dependent upon the work of the Holy Spirit in his life, texts that describe how that he is under the authority of the Father.
Jesus Led By The Spirit:
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. (Mark 1:12,13)
Jesus Empowered By The Spirit:
One day, while he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting near by (they had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem); and the power of the Lord was with him to heal (Luke 5:17)
And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief. (Mark 6:5-6a)
But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you. (Matthew 12:28)
Jesus Given Authority To Execute Judgment:
"Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself; and he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. "I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me. (John 5:25-30)
What does this mean?
Far from being some sort of superhero figure -- able to leap tall buildings in a single bound -- this means Jesus actually lived out a legitimate human life, a life bound up with the Father's will, a life empowered by the Holy Spirit (to whom submits and experiences power) and a life that truly faced temptations just like we face, yet through the Spirit not falling to those temptations. (Hebrews 4:15)
What else could St. Paul mean when he writes:
Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation , and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:6-8)
The upshot of this is meant to remind us that Jesus, creatively taking to himself the Hebrew suffering servant motif of Isaiah 40-55 for his understanding of the work of the Messiah, offers himself to the nation as the one, true and living King of the Jews, and he offers himself as Israel's martyred sufferer as a sacrifice for a world at war not only with the Jews, but with themselves.
That is, Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, absorbed the monstrous evil of this world bent on self-annihilation, all for glory of GOD the Father and the reconciliation and freedom for humanity through this new creation.
But, somehow, I think the word absorbed doesn't really do justice to Jesus' actions.
Jesus describes it this way:
Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" They replied, "We are able." Then Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized...(Mark 10:38b-39)
That's it. Jesus didn't so much absorb the swirling powers of evil as much as he swallowed the bitter, putrid cup, draining it dry. That is to say, Jesus willingly drank deep and swallowed all of the anger and hatred and greed and violence and death of a world spinning out of control by our own choices.
At the end of his book, Simply Christian, N.T. Wright writes this:
“On the cross the living God took the fury and violence of the world onto himself, suffering massive injustice -- the biblical stories are careful to highlight this -- and yet refusing to lash out with threats or curses. Part of what Christians have called “atonement theology” is the belief that in some sense of other Jesus exhausted the underlying power of evil when he died under its weight, refusing to pass it on our keep in in circulation.”
I love this quote. Jesus, empowered by the same Holy Spirit which we share, swallowed the brutal powers of empire and darkness, and did not open his mouth with complaint or regret.
Jesus' preaching and teaching was accompanied and empowered with a life-changing authority. In fact, it was the settled understanding throughout Jesus’ ministry that people didn’t even need to hear him, for whenever he passed by the crowd believed if they were merely able to even touch his clothing, a healing would occur.
Now, Sisters and Brothers, it must be this same understanding for us. To be sure, most of us will probably not have the same ministry of power that Jesus had, but we still must understand that our ministry must be based upon his model of power and authority.
That is, like Jesus we must preach with empowered authority. We must offer this same life-changing message -- New life, New way to live. We must proclaim to all who care to hear that the new King has come to serve, to seek and save those who are being lost.
Like Jesus, we do not go in our own authority; we go within the calling of another! As the Father sent the Son, so the Son has sent us:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:19, 20)
And, like the Son, we are empowered by the gift of the Holy Spirit:
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8)
But, we ourselves are not only empowered, we also share a message that carries within it the power of GOD and the seeds of the new Kingdom:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, "The one who is righteous will live by faith." (Romans 1:16, 17)
These truths allow our preaching to, in reality, bring into the open a changed life. It is not in the end, therefore, our rhetoric or our learning that brings conversion -- it is the power of GOD for the salvation of all who believe. We plant and water, but GOD makes it grow, just as he did with Jesus the Messiah.