The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany (1/29/2012)

Lessons:Deuteronomy 18:15-20 Psalm 111 1st Corinthians 8:1-13 St. Mark 1:21-28

Prayer of the Day: Compassionate God, you gather the whole universe into your radiant presence and continually reveal your Son as our Savior. Bring wholeness to all that is broken and speak truth to us in our confusion, that all creation will see you and know your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

1:21 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 silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27They 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.

St. Mark 1:21-28 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

What Do You Have to Do with Us, Jesus?

Every year, Time magazine features a “Person of the Year.” It used to be “Man of the Year.” They changed it to be more inclusive, even though they still usually pick a man (although this year they didn’t even pick an individual person, they picked a group of people). The has list featured politicians, religious leaders, heroes, entrepreneurs. But of all the choices, I still remember 1978, when Time chose Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini. Readers were enraged that Time would chose one of the most visible and despised opponents of our country. Time’s argument: he influenced the world more than any other person in 1978, and there was much to learn from that.

We chafe at having to learn from those whom we despise. Yet we have the opportunity to do just that in this week’s Gospel. The lesson features Jesus, his disciples, worshippers at the synagogue, an unknown man, and the unclean spirit who possessed him. The disciples, as usual, aren’t shown as being particularly aware of what is happening. The attendees at synagogue respond with astonishment and amazement. The man seems fairly helpless. But the unclean spirit, among all the characters in this story, is the one who perceives who Jesus is, and what Jesus is able to do. Afraid for what might happen, he shrieks 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.”

How interesting: of all the players in this drama, it is an unclean spirit who is among the first to proclaim, in Mark’s Gospel, that Jesus is the all-powerful Holy One of God. This one knows that Jesus is no mere human being. This one knows that Jesus has the ability to overcome disease with health, trouble with peace, evil with good. This one knows that Jesus can make a difference – and he is afraid of the difference Jesus might make.

Do we know that about Jesus? Do we truly believe he has the ability to make a powerful difference for us and for our world? Many in our day are nominal participants in religious organizations. They worship now and then. They attend a Bible class here and there. They participate in a family function from time to time. But they don’t live lives that are marked by the power and the presence of Jesus. They seem to know who he is, but they don’t seem to know what he is capable of doing.

In this week’s Gospel lesson, we are pushed to realize that this One whose death and resurrection we proclaim has the power to radically transform our lives and our living. His influence on us is not intended to be one of a variety of good influences we enjoy, but instead, is intended to be something that centers our lives on the power of faith, and the faithfulness of God. Perhaps we would do well to learn what even the unclean spirits know: that Jesus, the Holy One of God, has the power to overcome even the most evil of realities in our world. May he do so in our lives.


David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How did this unclean spirit know who Jesus was?
  2. What do you suppose the others who were there thought about the possibility that this possessed man would ever be whole again?
  3. As Jesus’ fame spread, what do you think attracted others to him?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What, in my life, is not as God might want it to be?
  2. Do I truly believe that Jesus has the ability to make a difference in that area of my life?
  3. How might I learn to trust in God’s ability to work new life in my living? Who might be able to support and encourage me?