Note to readers: During Lent Resurrection joins over 140 other congregations in Kansas City and others in Hong Kong and Ghana in reading the entire gospel of Mark.
To watch a video that includes this week’s Monday-Wednesday Mark passages, click here.
21 Jesus and his followers went into Capernaum. Immediately on the Sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and started teaching. 22 The people were amazed by his teaching, for he was teaching them with authority, not like the legal experts. 23 Suddenly, there in the synagogue, a person with an evil spirit screamed, 24 “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are. You are the holy one from God.”
25 “Silence!” Jesus said, speaking harshly to the demon. “Come out of him!” 26 The unclean spirit shook him and screamed, then it came out.
27 Everyone was shaken and questioned among themselves, “What’s this? A new teaching with authority! He even commands unclean spirits and they obey him!” 28 Right away the news about him spread throughout the entire region of Galilee.
29 After leaving the synagogue, Jesus, James, and John went home with Simon and Andrew. 30 Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed, sick with a fever, and they told Jesus about her at once. 31 He went to her, took her by the hand, and raised her up. The fever left her, and she served them.
32 That evening, at sunset, people brought to Jesus those who were sick or demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered near the door. 34 He healed many who were sick with all kinds of diseases, and he threw out many demons. But he didn’t let the demons speak, because they recognized him.
In Jesus' day, few of today’s medical and psychological insights into human suffering existed. People saw nearly all mysterious ills as “demon possession” (e.g., a likely case of epilepsy described in Mark 9:14-27). That said, we don’t know any reason for epilepsy or mental illness to inevitably lead a person to rightly call Jesus “the holy one from God.” Mark’s central focus was (and it still applies): humans need healing physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Lord Jesus, you cared that destructive forces were loose in the world you created. Give me caring and courage to enlist as one of your servants working with you to heal those who hurt. Amen.
* N. T. Wright, Mark for Everyone. (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2001, 2004, p. 13.)
** Stephen S. Short, “Mark” in F. F. Bruce, gen. ed., New International Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1979, p. 1158.
In today’s GPS reflection questions, we learned that the man with the “evil spirit” in this passage was probably a person with some kind of mental illness. Knowing that, and then re-reading the passage for today, I noticed that this man was the first one in the passage to name Jesus as being divine when he called Jesus the “Holy One.”
While everyone else in the synagogue was listening to Jesus and recognizing the power in his teaching, this man, in the middle of a serious mental health episode, saw that Jesus’ power wasn’t just in his words, but in his very being.
In fact, if we re-read from the very beginning of the Gospel of Mark, we find that this man was the first human in the entire Gospel to speak the fullness of Jesus’ identity and name him as being of God. I think there is something powerful in this.
Throughout the story of Israel, we see God choosing unexpected people to change the world. In almost every story from Genesis to Malachi, it was the youngest brother, the smallest tribe, the widow, or the orphan who listened to God and accomplished God’s plan for God’s people. The “weakest” people were actually the strong ones. It was the sheep, not the lions, who introduced the world to the kingdom of God.
And I wonder if the author of the Gospel of Mark was continuing that tradition here, expanding it to include those who experience mental illnesses. Even while this man was overcome in this moment by a “demon,” he was able to see Jesus clearly as the Christ, the Messiah, the Holy One of God. When he probably felt like he was at the height of worthlessness and brokenness, he was most able to name Jesus in the world around him.
Somehow, though, even after he shouted who Jesus was, the rest of the people in the room couldn’t see it. As Jesus healed the man, he told him to keep quiet. The onlookers were surprised that Jesus was able to perform the healing, but they didn’t catch what the sick man had shouted – they missed that Jesus was the Holy One. Something about their comfort or their social status or their preconceived ideas kept them from understanding that the Son of God was right in front of them.
I pray that, in my life, I am attentive to the people around me who most need the healing and power of Jesus, because I think they are most likely to see him clearly.
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