Where I contemplate on the Sunday scripture readings according to the Revised Common Lectionary.
Epiphany 5, 08 February 2015 (Year B)
- Isaiah 40:21-31
- Psalm 147:1-11, 20c
- 1 Corinthians 9:16-23
- Mark 1:29-39 (Green)
Last week’s introduction to Jesus in the Gospel of Mark — casting the demon out of a possessed man in the synagogue at Capernaum — gave a foretaste of the Jesus to come, the Jesus who will wander the countryside, go from busy town to dusty village, healing and expelling demons and proclaiming, in all this, the good news of the Kingdom of God.
29 And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. 31 And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
32 That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered together at the door. 34 And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
35 And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, 37 and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” 38 And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” 39 And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.
This is Jesus in a big, fat hurry. It’s as if he knows there’s a deadline, some limit, some end, to what it is his calling on earth.
He meets whole cities at sundown, and he heals many. He rises early in the morning to pray alone, and a gaggle comes looking for him, telling Jesus what he likely already knows — “Everyone is looking for you.”
Jesus could stay in one place, in Capernaum, his whole life, and never run out things to do, people to heal, places to proclaim the good news of the kingdom. If nothing else, the ills of the world would always be visited on Capernaum, and demons would always find someone to afflict. But I suspect the word about Jesus would get out, and eventually, the world would be a path to his door, to Simon’s house (where he lives with his wife and mother-in-law), and never leave.
Always wanting. Always hungering for what Jesus has.
Instead, Jesus tells his disciples, “It is time to start moving.”
And he says something absolutely fascinating. “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.”
For that is why I came out.
This is same command he gives to the demon in the synagogue at Capernaum: “Be silent, and come out of him!” ἔξελθε in Mark 1:25, ἐξῆλθον in Mark 1:39. It’s the same irregular Greek verb, the past-tense version of ερχομαι (ελυσις). Jesus commanded the demon to come out of the man, and his “coming out” is linguistically similar.
I’m trying to picture this in my mind. What does it mean for a demon to “come out”? Where does a “disembodied” demon go? Jesus silences them, and then we hear no more. Do they infest others? Fly around wistfully? Do they return to whatever miserable place demons come from, to face some kind of disciplinary action for being cast out? (“Bad demon! You are banished to… well, whatever place we banish bad demons to!”) The demons all know who Jesus is, that he is “the Holy One of God,” and that’s clearly why he silences them. Their testimony is not something the world needs to hear.
(Now here’s a question I’ll just pose and leave hanging — are the demons here something akin to the jinn of the Qur’an?)
So, what does it mean that Jesus has “come out”? Where was he that he needed to come out? He has come out to preach, and yet in Mark, he does precious little preaching or proclaiming (κηρύξω). Or rather, he doesn’t really preach the way we think about it. He doesn’t use words.
This, I think, is why he silences the demons. The proclamation of the Kingdom of God does not need their testimony. Because the Kingdom is not pretty and encouraging words. Or even truthful ones. The Kingdom is deeds. His casting out of demons is a proclamation of the Kingdom of God. His healing of the sick, of the lame, his forgiving sins, is a proclamation. This is what it means to teach with authority. Jesus in Mark doesn’t so much speak as he acts — and this Kingdom of God he mentions is what he does. It is healing, it is casting out, it is forgiving, it is calling disciples to “follow me” so they may continue the work. Of doing the Kingdom. Of being the Kingdom in the midst of the world.
And Jesus will not let the niceties of religious observance get in the way. He works on the sabbath, he argues with the authorities, he calls disciples and then sends
them us out to do the same. This is the Kingdom of God.