Reflections for February are by Bishop Jason Gordon, Bishop of Bridgetown, Barbados and Kingstown, St. Vincent
Jesus and his followers went as far as Capernaum, and as soon as the Sabbath came he went to the synagogue and began to teach.
22. And his teaching made a deep impression on them because, unlike the scribes, He taught them with authority.
23. In their synagogue just then there was a man possessed by an unclean spirit and it shouted, 24. ’What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus said sharply, 25. ’Be quiet! Come out of him!’ 26. And the unclean spirit threw the man into convulsions and with a loud cry went out of him. 27. The people were so astonished that they started asking each other what it all meant. ‘Here is a teaching that is new’ they said ‘and with authority behind it: He gives orders even to unclean spirits and they obey him.’ 28. And His reputation rapidly spread everywhere, through all the surrounding Galilean countryside.
The Gospel of Mark is the shortest of the synoptic gospels and the most direct gospel. Many Scripture Scholars believe it is the first Gospel written. Because it is so filled with symbolic meaning, we often have to unpack several levels of the text. Our text tells of the first act of public ministry of Jesus. Mark’s gospel begins with a brief account of the work of John the Baptist; the baptism and temptation of Jesus and the calling for the first disciples. Just as the opening verse of the Gospel set the stage for the whole gospel, this text sets the stage for the public ministry of Jesus.
READING THE TEXT
On the first level we have Jesus and the disciples on the journey heading for Capernaum. Journey is symbolic for discipleship. Very often Mark will say “while on the way”. The text has a dynamic effect; it is about discipleship; about being on the journey. The text also has an immediacy—“as soon as”— you will often find this in Mark’s gospel.
The rest of the text revolves around two very important themes in Mark—(1) the identity of Jesus and (2) His confrontation with evil. The themes are intertwined - to understand one you must understand the other.
There are at least three direct references to the identity of Jesus. (1) Vs. 22 speaks of the impression and the difference between Jesus and the Scribes. (2) Vs. 24 - the demon identifies Him as Son of God. (3) Vs. 27 &28 the people are reflecting on what happened in the exorcism. St. Mark begins his Gospel with the very provocative words: “The beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”. From this opening line it is clear that Mark intends to put the identity of Jesus centre stage – he declares that Jesus is the Son of God. The disciples will struggle with this identity all through the Gospel. Slowly, through the resurrection they will begin to perceive the truth of the Good News. While the Disciples of Jesus struggle with the identity, the unclean spirits know who he is and the authority he has. But it does not bring conversion to them.
This text is also aimed at another group of disciples - the ones who like the first disciples, us, the disciple reader, who are on the journey with Jesus and who are struggling with His identity. The text is asking us a question that we must answer: Who is Jesus Christ? Do we believe He has authority and that his teaching is really Good News?
The centre piece of our text is this confrontation with the unclean spirits. At the first public act of ministry, Jesus confronts evil and demonstrates his power over it. In Mk 3:27 the Evangelist has a cryptic text of having to tie up the strong man to burgle his house. Some commenters see this as Jesus’ description of his ministry. Binding the strong man (Satan’s) house to burgle his house. From this perspective our text opens a window to see the ministry of Jesus very differently. It is confrontation with evil. It consists of binding evil and setting people free.
Jesus begins his ministry in the Synagogue. On the symbolic level this is a church devil. He is cleansing evil in the synagogue first before cleansing the evil in the world. So often we look at the evil in the world and society. Jesus begins by cleaning home first.
Over the last years we have had to clean house: The child sexual abuse; financial abuse; inappropriate behaviour of Bishops, Clerics and Religious. The whole world has been made acutely aware of the evil in our Church. Do we believe that Jesus has the power to exorcise this evil? Here the text is again addressing the disciple reader about the identity of Jesus. Who is this man? Do you believe he has power over evil? Over the evil in our hearts? Over the evil in our Families? Over the evil in our Church? Over the evil in our societies? Every disciple reader needs to answer these questions. The disciple reader in the Caribbean today needs to wrestle deeply with these questions. It is in coming to belief in Jesus that we can go further in living discipleship.
Lord, as disciples we want to be on the journey with you, following your lead and going where ever you want us to lead us. Open our eyes to the truth of the Good News, to its urgent call. Help us to see clearly the evil within our Church and our hearts. Help us to believe that you have power over evil. Deliver us from all evil we pray as we commend our lives to you and ask for the grace of mature discipleship.