Deuteronomy 18, 15-20 + Psalm 95 + 1 Corinthians 7, 32-35 + Mark 1, 21-28
Last week we heard the first spoken words of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel. This week we hear of the first miracle, and with it Mark introduces the primary issues that will spark conflicts between Jesus and the “authorities.” They are issues that are far from settled. They still cause conflict and challenge today.
The “authorities”, scribes and Pharisees, are upset because the sacredness of the Sabbath has been compromised. Even more so they are upset because their authority has been questioned by a new authority. The Scribes thought and taught that the most important thing in life was following the law. Jesus proposes a new authority. Rather than the ultimate authority of the Law, Jesus proposes Love and Mercy. Even though Mark does not say so, I suspect that those Scribes were also upset because nothing they did ever left the people astonished and wondering: “What does this mean?”
The day of the week is irrelevant as this story goes. What is more important: the sacredness of the Sabbath or the sacredness of Humanity? This is real the issue: what matters most, keeping the rule or taking care of people? In the time of fulfillment that Jesus has proclaimed, in the Reign of God, every day is a Sabbath. In fact, there are no “days” – there is simply the time of fulfillment that Jesus has proclaimed. It is the time when evil is finished, and all its manifestations are gone. So, in the synagogue on that day, because Jesus is there, that man is free, and Jesus is acknowledged. This is something new. It is astonishing not because a man was healed, but because of what it might mean. People really do count? People who are outcasts, weird, possessed really count more than the Sabbath rule? Astonishing! This is something new. What does this mean?
This manifestation of the power of God’s love and mercy left all of those people talking and wondering. Some came to believe. Why only “some”? What would it take for all of them to move from wondering in astonishment to belief? It is a question that turns to us for an answer. The first step toward belief is this astonishment, but when you take a close look at our lives, there is not much to get excited about. We are astonished all the time by the power of evil. Hardly ever does the power of good leave us astonished. Not a day goes by when some terrorist or some deranged person like the man in the synagogue does something horrible that leaves us astonished. It might be time to ask why the power of evil leaves us astonished while the power of love and mercy seem to be so hard to find. The truth is, we are numb. We are anesthetized by all this evil so much so that nothing leaves us astonished anymore. What does this mean?
My own suspicion is that too many of us are concerned with doing things right rather than doing the right thing. They are not often the same. The narcissistic culture we live in cultivates a life style of pleasure and pleasing. We like to please others by doing what they expect and not rocking the boat. Mediocrity is the style of the day. Jesus stood up in the synagogue and did something no one else would do. He told a demon to be quiet. He silenced the voice of evil. He challenged what was wrong in spite of a law that said “Do nothing.” Jesus did not care what day it was. He saw a man in trouble, in the grip of evil, and he did something about it even though the authorities would not approve. What does this mean?
It means that when Jesus Christ is present, evil is going to be challenged. It means that with his coming into this world, there will be no power greater than his. It means that hiding behind rules, laws, and old customs is not the way things go under the reign of God. It means that if we ever take seriously opportunities to do the right thing, to speak up, to act up, to silence the voice of evil with the voice of mercy and love, we will find ourselves right in the middle of the reign of God. We will find ourselves once and for all right in the middle of the Body of Christ, and his authority will be ours not for power or gain, but for mercy and forgiveness, and there is doubt in my mind that this whole world be again be astonished and come to believe because of us. That is the work of discipleship.