Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

by Crossings

What Have You To Do With Us, Jesus of Nazareth?
Mark 1:21-28
(Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany)
Analysis by Carolyn Schneider

21They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching – with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

DIAGNOSIS: The Same Old Deathly Authority

Step 1 – Initial Diagnosis: Sin as Usual
No one is terribly surprised at the presence of sin, not even in the synagogue. It is just the way things are. No one can do anything about it-at least, until now. Although recognizing that Jesus’ authority is not as the teachers of the law, the people do not move to place themselves under that authority, and thus they are left “oohing” and “aahing” about his authority; but the ownership which they are under does not change. By not moving into Jesus’ field of ownership, the best they have is that coming from the teachers of the law. That’s not good enough for coping with demonic possessors.

Step 2 – Advanced Diagnosis: Something Old
Demonic “possession” is Mark’s metaphor for alien ownership. That is Mark’s deeper diagnosis for all of the people to whom and for whom Jesus comes, though only the one man in the synagogue who is patently possessed knows who Jesus is and recognizes him as a threat. The others are shocked and surprised at Jesus’ removal of sin, not yet seeing the seriousness of their own slavery to sin and their own need to be liberated from alien, deadly, owners and to be brought back under God’s ownership.

Step 3 – Final Diagnosis: Perhaps We Should Be Alarmed
The one person who knows both the power of sin and the power of God knows that Jesus did not come to leave everything as is. This one is not a neutral bystander, but is fully engaged, convulsed in a life and death struggle. The others begin to suspect that perhaps we should be alarmed. This Jesus does not, after all, teach with objectivity, but with authority, involving all with himself: text, law, hearers, unclean spirits, etc. The effect of “the Holy One of God” is devastating.

PROGNOSIS: A New Lively Authority

Step 4 – Initial Prognosis: Death and Resurrection
But there is a good way that devastation can take place-devastating the power the forces marshaled against us! The first shot in Jesus’ battle against the powers of evil has been fired. In exercising authority over the unclean spirits, Jesus also exercises authority over the law that determines clean and unclean. Thus a strange alliance develops against the Holy One of God, who has directed spirits, law, and all things against himself, culminating on the cross. God is upsetting the status quo. Nowhere is this clearer than at the empty tomb, from which Jesus’ own disciples run, afraid of the one who has authority over all things and has made all things his own, even death.

Step 5 – Advanced Prognosis: Something New
But those who know “the fear of the Lord” (Psalm 111:10) in Jesus’ presence, are lifted up from the ground and encouraged by God’s holying Spirit to make the life of the Holy One of God their own, as he has made their lives his own. When such liberating ownership transfer actually takes place in a human being, it is wrenching (v. 26). It is like dying and rising, like confession and absolution. It is “repenting and believing the good news,” as Mark told his readers a few verses earlier (1:15).

Step 6 – Final Prognosis: The Report
Mere marveling at Jesus’ authority is not living under that authority. “Follow me” (1:17) was his earlier word for living daily life under his Mercy-Messiah authority. Being in direct searing communication with God’s Holy One also re-opens communication with people. What a report that one newly possessed person must have made about Jesus! Surely, it was not the report of a bystander, but of one who is cleansed and made new, a singer of Psalm 111: “Hallelujah! I will give thanks to the Lord. . . . His praise endures forever.”


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