January 25, 2024 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Mark 1:21-28 (NRSV)
Jesus and his disciples went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 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.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 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.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
If you were to keep reading the Gospel of Mark, you’d find tension continuing between a Jesus who asks to have his kingdom not revealed yet and a Jesus who is getting more and more famous by the minute.
After having discussed one of Jesus’ very first epiphanies last week, I’m here for a one-shot engagement this week, continuing the story of how Jesus continues to manifest signs of the inbreaking kingdom during the Sundays after the Epiphany.
Today’s story follows directly on Jesus’s calling of Simon, Andrew, James, and John in Mark 1:14-20. The previous week, we read about the calling of Philip and Nathanael in John 1:43-51. At the very least, Simon, Andrew, James, and John appear to have accompanied Jesus to Capernaum. There he performed an action not at all unusual for a visiting rabbi; he went to the synagogue and taught. But, as with many other synagogue visits Jesus made, the listeners found his teaching unusual. (Most recently, we’ve briefly mentioned how he claims in Luke 4 while teaching at a synagogue to have fulfilled a major messianic prophecy in Isaiah 61.) Even before Jesus’s performance of an exorcism really startles the hearers, they remark that “he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Mark 1:22).
Jesus’ fame soon spreads because of this dramatic incident—fewer than ten verses later, while staying at the home of Simon (whose mother-in-law he promptly heals) and Andrew, Jesus has a line out the front door and down into the street of people who are sick and demon-possessed, and he heals and exorcises them. He tells the demons not to speak and tell anyone who he is (Mark 1:34), but it hardly seems to matter, given how many other people already know. If you were to keep reading the Gospel of Mark, you’d find this tension continuing—between a Jesus who asks to have his kingdom not revealed yet, and a Jesus who is getting more and more famous by the minute. (In fact, you can’t even get to the end of Mark 1 without the tension happening again—twice!)
When I first began serving at my current church, I made much during my first preaching of the Season after the Epiphany out of the “manifestation” aspect of Jesus’ epiphanies. Look, I said; Jesus is showing us who he is. The glory is breaking out. It cannot be hidden. It is even manifest to the Gentiles (as the story of the Magi reminds us). Look everywhere and you will see him.
Last Sunday when I got up to preach—one pandemic, several wars, numerous political reckonings, and the deaths of three dear saints from my own life later—somehow it was not the glory which impressed itself on my heart so much as the hiddenness. Look, the people say: Jesus is here. Our sorrows are over and our problems are solved. Then why, over 2000 years later, has the kingdom not fully broken in? Why are we still in pain?
Out of that pain, I remember the amazement of those who first heard the message: “A new teaching—with authority!” No matter how hard it is to believe that Jesus is in charge, the Scriptures still hold that hope out to us. They remind us, as today’s prayer says, that he governs “all things both in heaven and on earth.” They still ask us to follow our Lord. They still teach us to ask for healing. Look everywhere—no matter how long it takes—and you will see him.
Where do you despair?
Where do you see hope?
It’s Epiphany, so why am I being so un-liturgical as to suggest you listen to “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear?” For these words:
“But with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring; –
Oh hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing!”
(Full lyrics and more history of the hymn can be found here.)
(Prayer for the Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany in the Book of Common Prayer) Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Banner image by Lee Young on Unsplash.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project’s online commentary. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: The First Days of the Movement (Mark 1:21-45).
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Jennifer Woodruff Tait (PhD, Duke University) is the editor of and frequent contributor to Life for Leaders. She is also the managing editor of Christian History magazine and web editor for the Theology of Work Project, and a priest in the Episcopal Church. She has written a book of poetry, Histories of Us. Jennifer lives in Berea, Kentucky, with her husband, Edwin, and their two daughters.
Click here to view Jennifer’s profile.