Friday, January 30, 2009

The Authority of Jesus' Teaching

This Sunday I'll be preaching from the passage (Mark 1:14-20) which I blogged about last week and intended to preach from last Sunday but was kept from doing so because of the snow. That means that I am slightly ahead of the game in looking at the passage I'll be preaching from on Feb. 8th which is Mark 1:21-28.

There are a lot of pretty weird things about this passage of scripture beginning with the fact that it is a story about a demon possessed man. Of course, there are stories of demon possession throughout scripture and such instances are mentioned in other ancient literature as well so its not weird in that sense. Its weird because most people today have never encountered anything quite like the story described in this passage. Of course, most Christians, myself included believe that there are evil forces at work in our world but rarely if ever do we encounter them in such a tangible form as described here.

But that's not all that is strange about this scripture text. It also seems odd that this demon possessed man is the first human being in Mark's gospel to make such a bold claim about Jesus. He designates him as the Holy one of God. You wouldn't think having fishermen follow you around and having an unclean spirit announcing who you are would be the best public relations move on Jesus' part at the very beginning of his ministry.

I also have to wonder what the story is on this guy with the unclean spirit. After all, this happens while Jesus is teaching in the synagogue which makes me wonder if this guy showed up just because Jesus was there or if he was a regular member of the synagogue? I've always assumed that his unclean spirit was obvious to everyone around him like the demon possessed man in Mark 5. However, on a closer reading, I wondered if this guy attended synagogue regularly and looked just like any of the other members of the synagogue and was able to hide his unclean spirit until Jesus showed up. In that case, he would be like an ancient version of the BTK serial killer arrested just a few years ago who had been an active member of a church without anyone in the church being aware of his evil practices.

Despite these oddities, the thing that the people in synagogue end up talking about is Jesus' teaching. Mark summarizes their reaction at the sight of Jesus' work of exorcism; "They were all amazed, so that they debated among themselves, saying 'What is this? A new teaching with authority!'" Jesus' teaching has just been summarized a few verses earlier as a proclamation that the kingdom of God is at hand (v. 15) and I can only assume that the people consider this teaching to have authority because he has just driven out this unclean spirit. His power to drive out the unclean spirit is evidence of his claims about the kingdom of God. Jesus is viewed as having authority because he can do what previous teachers have only talked about. In the face of this unclean spirit, Jesus shows no fear of becoming unclean himself. Instead, he fearlessly drives out the unclean spirit, liberating the man from his devilish captivity.

Perhaps the reason so few people today consider the Church to be an authoritative source of teaching is because of the ways that we have failed to allow God to work in us so that he might deliver us and others from our devilish captivities. Of course, I'm not advocating that we renew an interest in exorcisms but there is no doubt that there are all kinds of unclean spirits which hold both those inside and outside the church in bondage; unclean spirits which we desperately need Jesus to drive out of our midst. May God purge us of all but a desire for his kingdom so that we might be a force of liberating love in our world.

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