Summary: With forces struggling for our attention, the dog you feed will always win.
The dog you feed
You see it whenever two powerhouses meet in a sports contest. Two unbeaten university football teams meet in a championship. As a matter of fact I seem to remember an epic game between Notre Dame and Georgia Tech…Wow what a game. Who won that one? Or what about two dominating NBA teams that meet in the championship finals. There is a clash of powerful forces. The atmosphere is charged and emotions run high. Spectators love a clash of powerful forces. Then there is the more bizarre clash of powerful forces promoted by the World Wrestling Federation. Now that the State of Minnesota has elected a former wrestler, more people are familiar with the world of professional wrestling. Isn’t that right Dennis? (Many of us would just as soon not have become familiar with it!) In the strange world of professional wrestling there are a multitude of "good guys" and a multitude of "bad guys" and a charged-up stadium when there is a clash between a really notorious bad guy and a Mr. Clean type good guy. And as the times would have it -- you can now also see the "good girls" and "bad girls" throwing each other around the canvas. (Perhaps there's an argument to be made here that sometimes equality is regressive.) All of us could come up with examples of what we're talking about here... a clash of powerful forces.
In our war torn world, there are frequent clashes of powerful forces. During the Second World War, there was an incredible clash between the forces of good and the forces of evil. Things were clear. The Allies gathered to stop Hitler and his forces. And talk about powerful forces. Almost everyone on the planet has a picture of a giant mushroom cloud in his or her minds ever since the day an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Now that was a powerful force! The century we just exited spent half it's times in anxiety over the powerful forces that had the potential to bring our world to the brink of extinction. Today we will discuss external forces, but more importantly internal forces.
(Read Mark 1:21-28)
Sometimes we experience a clash of forces internally. We encounter this every time we hear ourselves saying,
"I shouldn't do this...
And it really strikes home when we are saying,
"I shouldn't have done that...
The Apostle Paul certainly understood the internal clash of forces. Remember his words in Romans 7:15,
"I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate."
In other words, Paul experiences a clash of forces -- a battle between the "good guys" and the "bad guys" inside -- and he acknowledges that frequently the "good guy" looses. Most of us have gone through the experience of losing an inner conflict of forces. There are things we would rather not share with any other human being that are a result of our inner struggles. With Paul we might say, "I do not understand my own actions... I did the very thing I hate."
The inner struggle is portrayed in countless scenes and various plots from film and television movies. When someone (usually a cop) says to someone who has been caught in a terrible crime,
"Why did you do it?"
The struggle between what is good and what is not good -- both in the outer world and in our inner world points to a deep and basic struggle between good and evil that has been a part of human living in all of recorded history.
Today's story in the Gospel of Mark is a story about a clash of powerful forces. In fact, it is the story of the clash of good and evil. The good news is that the kingdom -- or the reign of God -- is near and this means the right will triumph over wrong. Jesus' very presence makes the reign of God possible. Jesus goes to the synagogue in Capernaum and teaches. His words are a likely commentary on the lessons of the day. But – there is a huge difference between Jesus’ teaching and the teaching of others. The gathered crowd is amazed at Jesus’ words because, “… he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”
Of course, we can guess but we don’t know exactly what the difference was, but perhaps too much human opinion or a sense of indifference and dullness had settled on the hearing of the people. Whatever had brought the teaching of the scribes into this state of low or no expectation – things were different when Jesus spoke. His intimacy with the word of God brought about a sense of the presence of God in so powerful a way that an evil presence or spirit could not tolerate the holiness.