Jesus Expels an Evil Demon, Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, Château de Chantilly, Chantilly, France.
Sunday 28 January 2018
Jesus rebuked him and said,
“Quiet! Come out of him!”
The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him. Mark 1:25-26.
We are in the first chapter of Mark’s gospel which is thought by most scholars to be the oldest of the gospels, therefore the first to be written down, and therefore the closest to the memories of the followers of Jesus. Note that this gospel begins with John the Baptist greeting and baptizing Jesus, and Jesus receiving his identity as Son of God, and his vocation to be the Anointed of God, to be the Messiah. There is no mention in this gospel of the birth and childhood of Jesus whatever. It begins with his baptism, and ends with his death and the empty tomb. Scholars say that there are several later, added, endings to the gospel, but consensus is that it originally went no further than an empty tomb. All of which makes this a very interesting, challenging even, sacred scripture. It begins with Jesus receiving his ministry and ends at the moment he completed it. So in today’s gospel, right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, the faithful gathered in the synagogue recognized immediately that Jesus carried an authority and power not seen before. It was even beyond the authority of the acknowledged religious leaders of the day. It seems to fulfill the prophecy of Moses in the first reading, that God would raise up a prophet from the midst of the people and “put my words into his mouth”. Then to be able to rid one of the members of the congregation of an evil spirit must have been eye-popping. Remember that most people lived all their lives in small communities throughout the world at that time, so this man would have been very well known to have an incurable condition. Jesus also had his first followers with him, and this must have been confirmation right at the beginning of their decision to drop everything and follow him. You could say that Jesus hit the ground running!
Jesus often said that he had come to serve, not to be served. St. Paul says that he did not grasp equality with God for his own ends, but humbled himself. Today we have the first evidence of that vocation. Jesus taught with a total conviction concerning God which was instantly recognized by the synagogue congregation, and then exercised his power as the Son of God for the benefit of a suffering human being. So from the first moment Jesus obeyed the vocation he had received from his Father, to be the Messiah, to teach and act according to God’s will. So what is the lesson for us 2000 years later?
Each baptized Christian undergoes the identical experience as did Jesus in the Jordan with John the Baptist, minus the drama. The water washed away our old identity as a fallen human being and gave us a new identity and dignity as a Child of God. We were then anointed with holy oil, which gave each of us our vocation as Christ to the world, Messiah to the world, the Anointed of God to the world. Just like Jesus, we are to exercise our powers, whatever they may be, springing from the developed talents, gifts, we have received from God, in order to serve the world, to help our fellow humans throughout our life. Do all this and we are true children of God, following in the Master’s footsteps. Selfishness is the opposite of all that, let us remember. We are children of God to do God’s will here on earth, not our own. Once that is forgotten, we have dethroned God and established ourselves as a god, to our peril and unhappiness. For years I would ask my students, in a girls’ school in Brooklyn, to question their parents and their friends about their work. Were they happy in their work? If so, why? Almost universally, when the answer was yes, it was because they could help others, each in his or her own, unique, way. So Jesus’ example is not only the way to God, it is the recipe for our own happiness in this world. It sounds too good to be true – but ask the same question of your own friends. Is it the same answer?
Remains of the synagogue at Capernaum, Israel. Dating from the 3rd century CE, this is probably not the synagogue that Jesus taught in, but it might well have been! RJC