Deuter 18: 15-20; Ps 111 ; 1 Cor 8: 1 -13 ; Mark 1: 21 -28 Oremus Bible Browser

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Jesus is revealed to us in the child of Bethlehem; shortly after Christmas Jesus is revealed to us in an encounter with John the Baptist. Last week Jesus revealed himself to four fishermen – Simon, Andrew James and John. And today Jesus is revealed as the prophet that Moses pointed to - the Holy One of God. The reading from Deuteronomy, points towards the prophet, we see in verse 18. In verse 15, it is ‘a prophet like me from among your own people’ and there is then the little line that says ’You shall heed such a prophet’. At the end of that reading there’s an emphasis on both the importance and consequences of that heeding, both for the hearers of the prophet and also for the speaker of the prophetic voice. So we have this reading from Moses pointing towards the prophet.

And then when we come to Mark’s gospel, still very early on in Mark’s gospel, we’re still only in the first chapter, twenty-one verses in, and what Mark is seeking to do is to make clear what is revealed of and in Christ: what is this revelation, what is Christmas all about. In verse 22 from the Gospel reading, we hear ‘They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes. And again in verse 27 we hear that they were all amazed and they kept on asking one another: ‘What is this? A new teaching - with authority!’ It’s great I think that we’re twenty-one verses in and already Mark has given us so much about Christ.

We’ve got a simple narrative today, a very simple scene, very few words – if Mark goes on like this we’re going to have to have more material to fill up the service sheet on a Sunday. He gives so much and it’s as if it’s crammed in at the beginning. And because there is so much there, it is up to us then to sit with it to unpack it a little bit more. If we want to we can leave the Gospel reading where it is – it’s located in Capernaum – and much of the Christian church is going to do just that. It will read the reading and it will accept this reading as one historical account, a reading about Jesus and about his life and his work. Well that’s a waste of time, isn’t it! You might as well stay home and do that and there are movies made of these things, there are documentaries and there are shows like Compass. If that’s what we’re looking for, stay at home and do it, because you can also flick and watch the cricket as well. We are actually capable of processing two things at once. The other opportunity that we have and maybe why we do leave our homes and come together, is that we might just risk believing that this is an account of God’s eternal word and so it is a reflection of us and for us, as church and as members of one body and I think with Mark, that’s very easy to do. ‘They went to Capernaum and when the Sabbath came he entered the synagogue’. It’s just so easy to replace ‘synagogue’ with ‘church’. Then start looking for the characters in the narrative - there are very few. There’s Jesus, the scribes, there’s the man with the unclean spirit, then there’s ‘they’ – that’s the rest.

The teaching that Jesus brings teaches a new way, with an authority of its own: not as the scribes, not as the status quo. Jesus speaks not as the prevailing paradigm, not as the accepted norms, not as the orthodox view, not as the church has taught for 2000 years, not as the law says, not as our schools teach, not like the Government teaches. This is a new teaching – it is new, it is different.

The unclean spirit is another interesting one to bring into the present. And once again it’s readily translated from Capernaum to Beaconsfield. All of us, my guess is all of us at times, feel completely overwhelmed by the negative, the violent, the oppressive, the divisive - those spirits that surround us, those spirits that we see from a distance every time we turn the news on. Unclean spirits can take on many forms. In the modern world and in our world, the common forms of unclean spirits are self-centredness, individualism, desire to possess or to control, excess, waste, prejudice. Wow, unclean spirits - they seem to hold the foreground so much of the time. What we read of in the Gospel today is, even with those unclean spirits it is from there that we can still recognise Christ, the Holy One of God can still be seen. And I wonder if the image we have of the man in the synagogue – I wonder if we don’t feel convulsed at times ourselves by the conflicting voices within us, by the glimpse of God’s word and the call of the unclean spirits. At times they just seem to pull and push and leave us un-centred and off-centred.

Back to the narrative and Mark says ‘they’ – ‘they were astounded at this teaching’, ‘they were amazed at this teaching’. I wonder if in this present age, even in this synagogue, we cannot see all of the characters present – the scribes, the convulsed, the astounded, the amazed and the Word of God, all present.

Deuteronomy pointed to the prophet, Mark is giving us a revelation of the prophet, and in between we’ve got that reading from Paul, and it’s equally, equally, helpful to reflect on that, because Paul, although he’s talking to a particular church about a particular issue, he too covers a range of experiences: there are those with knowledge, a knowledge that puffs up; there are those with love, love builds up. There are those who have confidence in their faith – ‘we know that no idol in the world really exists’. There are those who are not so confident, those who are swayed by the old paradigms - they’ve become so accustomed to idols; and those whose faith is weak, and a weak faith is not a failing – a weak faith can just be the sign that there is more growing to do. Remember it is the one convulsed by the unclean spirit that is able to call out and know and see the Holy One of God. Weak faith: it’s a sign that there is more growing. What Paul asks for in his reading is for discernment, we must be able to see and acknowledge. And perhaps that’s what we need to do as well – to acknowledge and have an awareness that we are members of one body, but we’re not the same. Quite often, in that ‘members of one body’, the church has emphasised the sameness. Let’s not do that, let’s look at each other and see difference not sameness, because otherwise we will fall into the trap of compromise and pretence and letting things go. Claim, claim our difference, honour it, for then the strong can give to the weak, those who have confidence can support those and gently bring those along who don’t have confidence.

We will also be able to look around us and see around us the scribes, the unclean spirits, the Word of God, those who are amazed, those who are astonished. And if we claim our difference, we might also be able to glimpse the same in ourselves. For surely in each of us there are scribes, there are unclean spirits, there is a ‘they’, a large they in each of us that just looks on, sometimes amazed and astounded, but forever spectating. And also within each of us, there is the voice of God, the Word seeking incarnation. Today’s reading Mark reveals the authority of the Holy One of God. As the Body of Christ we are actually called to reveal ourselves as the same

The Lord be with you.

Peter Humphris

Textweek Epiphany 4