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  • Rev. Diane Curtis

“Jesus’ Ministry Begins”

Mark 1:21-28


21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and 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.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They 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.” 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.




My first job was at McDonald’s. They hired students with working papers when they were 14, so I was sent out to apply. Just before my first day, I started getting extremely nervous. What if they put me on a register when I don’t know what I am doing? What if I can’t remember how to do what they teach me? What if I mess up? What if… By the time I appeared for my first day, I was certain that I would be fired right away. Beginnings can be difficult.


The gospel of Mark is about beginnings. Mark jumps right into the life and ministry of Jesus. Jesus gets baptized, then he is tempted in the wilderness, then he is back in Galilee, then he calls the first disciples, and then they are off to Capernaum where Jesus performs his first miracle. All in the space of the first part of chapter 1. Whew!


We usually think of Jesus’ first miracle as the one described in John: the turning of water into wine at the wedding in Cana. Not here in Mark. In Mark’s account, Jesus goes into the local synagogue on the sabbath. He is the visiting preacher for the day. As he speaks, the congregation sits up and listens. Jesus’ message is powerful and authoritative but relatable. Everyone, including the disciples, was in awe.


I can imagine the disciples’ reaction. So, this is the one who called us to follow. Think of what we will learn and all that awaits. We’re going on an exciting adventure!


During a visit to Michigan, I decided to take a walk around the lake that was next to our condominium. I thought it would be fun and good exercise. I started walking on the path to the other side of the lake expecting a nice stroll. I saw a few people walking towards me so I thought it couldn’t be that far a walk. They didn’t look tired and sweaty. So, I walked, and I walked, and I walked. I walked until I couldn’t put one foot in front of the other. Then I called George. He was fishing a good 20 minutes away. I walked a bit more and then collapsed on a rock to wait. Later I realized that I had walked over 5 miles! It was an adventure until it wasn’t.


The disciples’ adventure was one until it wasn’t. The change happens fast, right at the beginning of this expected journey with Jesus. The man approaches Jesus right after the sermon. Their jaws dropped as the man began speaking. Jesus immediately recognized that an unclean spirit had taken over the man. The spirit asks Jesus why he is picking this fight, not just with this one but with all evil. Couldn’t Jesus have left things as they were between them? The spirit was obviously disturbed.


Jesus’ mere presence in the synagogue was a demonstration of his power. His message affirmed that. Jesus changed the normal order of good vs. evil. He crossed the boundary and engaged the demon who has come to challenge this new preacher.


When this unclean spirit meets Jesus, I imagine he gulps and realized that this was no ordinary teacher. He backtracks and asks Jesus if he has come to destroy all the evil spirits. This might have been an acknowledgement that his doom is sealed or an arrogant miscalculated boast. In any case, the unclean spirit is soon gone with a few additional words. The spirit wasn’t eliminated, he lost his ability to inhabit the human host.


Jesus’ teaching and the exorcism were related. The text tells us the immediate effects of both. These two events substantiated the claims about who Jesus is.


Those who inquire about Jesus’ authority are inquiring about his identity. The gospels tell us about who he is. He is the one through whom we see the Father. He is the Son of God, the Christ.


“Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks. The answer is the theme of Mark from beginning to end. From proclaiming that the good news is at hand, through his teaching and miracles, and to his death and resurrection, the answer becomes clear. The authority of Jesus is demonstrated repeatedly.


Authority asks the question, “Who is in charge?” Who has the recognizable power and the authorization to speak the truth? In the world, authority is often equated with authoritarianism. The one in charge, the king, the emperor, or the one who believes he holds power over others, decides what is true or right by their own accord.


Jesus’ authority is different. His reign is intrusive, it invades lives. It breaks boundaries and liberates people from the powers that afflict and keep people from flourishing. Jesus changes lives, making them better than they were before.


There are powerful forces at work in the world. It is too easy to blame the evil one – “the devil made me do it.” It is also easy to blame God for the difficulties we encounter – “why did God do this to me?” Our temptation is to categorize things that happen in the mistaken belief that they are easier to deal with if we can separate them into understandable parts.


We separate all that goes on in our lives and in the world into categories such as spiritual, sociological, habitual, political, climatological, etc. in the attempt to control each of these things. This separation doesn’t work. We neglect to realize that all that happens is not only interrelated but is beyond our control. These things are beyond our simple assumption that the way things are is the same as the way things must be.


This type of thinking counters our perspective of the safe, comfortable Jesus. The authoritative Jesus knows who he is and who we ought to see him to be. Jesus looks evil in the eye and sends it away. He defeats evil on the cross once and for all. Evil may continue to be at work, but it knows that it will lose in the end.


Jesus upends our assumptions by asking what is possible. Evil is active and part of the world. We must deal with it daily. Yet, Jesus continually sets souls free. We ought to pay attention to his power, the power proclaimed in the gospels.





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