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  • Writer's pictureRev. Izzy Harbin

Mark 1:21-28

Updated: Feb 2, 2021

They (Simon, Andrew, James, John, and Jesus) go into Capernaum. On the Sabbath, they enter the Synagogue. Jesus was teaching and they (all in attendance) were astonished at his teachings. He taught with authority, not like the scribes (writers and keepers of the Hebrew texts; religious leaders). There was a man among them with an unclean spirit (a particular countenance). He cried out, "What are you to us, Jesus of Nazareth? Did you come to destroy us? I know you as the Holy of God." Jesus rebuked him, "Silence! Come forth out of him." The unclean spirit cried loudly and came out. Everyone was astonished. They asked each other, "What is this new teaching? So bold with authority even unclean spirits obey his word." Jesus left, but the news of him spread throughout the region of Galilee.

What are we to make of Mark's assertion that Jesus comes face-to-face with a demon possessed man who needs to be exorcized?

This is not my world! I don't live with or around people who I believe to be possessed by anything other than a fervent love of sports, music, food, the creation of art, and other such obsessions. It is not difficult for me, however, to believe that Jesus walked among people who believed in evil spirits. If anything, these ideas are carried over from their time in Babylon or when they were occupied by Assyria; both of which have a long history of sorcery or magic and the belief in jinn or spirits. Still, it seems a little out of place in the synagogue. Or is it?

We have little information about why Jesus and his newly acquired disciples decide to come to Capernaum, but what we do know is that on the Sabbath, Jesus spends all day in the synagogue teaching. There are two things that strike me about this passage: a) the immediacy of Jesus teaching immediately after calling four individuals to forsake everything and follow him, and b) the "possessed" man's question to Jesus, "Did you come to destroy us?" If these two events, the calling of Jesus' first disciples and Jesus preaching in the synagogue, are connected, then it may explain Jesus' reaction to the possessed man's question. Jesus is looking for folks who are willing to be transformed.

Where is the best place to start? Jesus starts by rebuking the man. According to Google the word rebuke means to express sharp disapproval or criticism of someone because of their behavior or actions. What exactly did the man do that was worthy of a rebuke? For starters, he disrupted worship. And, it wasn't just a mild disruption - someone whispering in church, cell phone ringing in the middle of the sermon, or even asking a relevant question at the wrong time - the man confronts Jesus' authority to even be in the synagogue teaching. He asks, "What are you to us, Jesus of Nazareth?" This guy knew where Jesus was from, knew that he wasn't a local guy, and wanted to know, quite boldly, why they should listen to his teaching. In verse 22 we are told that everyone was astonished at his teachings, that he taught with a greater authority than even the scribes. The man's second question is of greater concern, though, "Did you come to destroy us?" Why would the man think this? Perhaps he is using the word destroy like we would use the word crush or defeat. If so, then we are getting closer to this idea of transformation.

Every time we walk into church, we bring our whole selves before God. We bring our egos, our pride, our addictions, our attitudes, and every ill behavior that dogs our every step. If we were confronted by the teachings of Christ, ALL DAY LONG, we might be astounded as well; astounded to the point of being fearful that God was going to strike us dead where we stand. We might even experience God saying to us, "Silence!" to our mumblings that we shouldn't have to listen to THIS (whatever this is). And then God yells in our ear, "Come forth out of them," as if commanding something to pay attention and to get marching. I think this is the phrase that baffles us. For something to come forth it has to exist, it has to be a real thing, and it must be substantive enough to be called out. My list of character flaws, sins, or whatever you want to call them are certainly weighty enough. I can absolutely see Jesus yelling at me as I argue my point, "Just shut up already. Stop trying to justify this insanity."

After the rebuke, the "spirit" pitched a fit but came out, AND left.

And there it is, the moment of transformation. Isn't this what we do every single time we must change something about ourselves. We fight with it for so long, and then, in the end, we finally let it go. Finally! And when we do, there is a sense of release, a sense of being cleansed of the thing that we just couldn't see our way to releasing on our own.

This entire community was changed because one person was willing to risk being exposed. When we lay ourselves bare before God, when we ask God, "What are you to us?" we might be surprised by what God says to us. Would it be so terrible to let some of that unwanted stuff in our lives to come forth, AND leave?

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