Summary: Although this is a rewrite of Tom Long’s Sermon, published in 1987, I believe it offers a new perspective. 4th Sunday after Epiphany, series B
4th Sunday after Epiphany, February 1, 2009 “Series B”
Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, we thank you for your Son, Jesus the Christ, your incarnate Word, who came to reveal your will and grace for our lives, and to redeem us from sin and death. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, help us to realize that we can always turn to your living Word for guidance, direction and hope to sustain us in our walk of faith. Empower us to not only see that in Jesus you are truly present to us, but that you also call us to witness to your redeeming grace. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.
I have always found a profound understatement to be humorous. And I believe that our Gospel lesson for this morning provides us with such humor, through the reaction of the congregation that gathered in that synagogue at Capernaum to hear the first sermon that Jesus preached. [The following is a re-write of Thomas G. Long’s “An Understated Masterpiece,” Shepherds and Bathrobes, CSS, 1987]
Just after calling his first disciples, Mark tells us that Jesus took those disciples and went to Capernaum. When the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught, or in other words, assumed the role of a rabbi and preached. It was an unusually powerful sermon, unlike any that the people gathered that day had ever heard, for Jesus preached from his own authority.
This provided the members of that congregation with an epiphany, or revelation that Jesus was unique. For unlike the scribes or other rabbis they had heard speak, or unlike any preacher since, who call upon the authority of Scripture and commentaries on the texts by various scholars, Jesus simply looked them in the eye and preached from his heart. After all, Jesus didn’t need to cite other scholars – he was the incarnate Word of God. And Mark tells us that the people were “astounded” at his teaching. But this is not the understatement to which I refer.
For right at the end of Jesus’ sermon, just as people were leaning toward one another to whisper how great it would be to have preaching like his every week, their astonishment was broken by the cries of a person possessed by an unclean spirit. Where he came from, we don’t know, for it would be unlikely that this person would have been permitted to be a member of the congregation.
Mark simply says, “Just then…” or, if I might use my preferred translation of this term from the Revised Standard Version, “Immediately…” It is one of Mark’s favorite words. “Immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit,” Mark tells us. It is his way of sweeping his hand across his story to shift our attention from what has just transpired to tell us that “if you think that was something special, look at this!”
As a result, the people couldn’t spend much time talking about what a good sermon they had just heard, because they had an “immediately” on
their hands. In this particular case, the “immediately” was a raving man in the middle of the congregation shouting vague threats at this young preacher who had just delivered such a great sermon.
“I know who you are,” howled something deep with the man. “You are the holy One of God.” Now isn’t this strange? The second epiphany that we encounter in this text, the first human being in Mark’s Gospel to acknowledge that Jesus is the holy One of God, comes from a person who is possessed by a demon.
Nevertheless, Jesus responded to this demonic outburst, saying “Be silent and come out of him!” Now, I can just imagine how this “immediately” impacted upon those who were gathered in that congregation. They must have fell silent as the man to whom Jesus directed his command fell to the synagogue floor, his arms beating wildly at the air, his legs thrashing out so that the people next to him had to move back to give room, while froths of foam and strange cries came out of his mouth.
Then the man became strangely calm, and stilly laid on the floor, all eyes in the synagogue locked in an amazed stare upon him. Slowly, he picked himself up, his face now tranquil, his eyes now clear, his voice now com-posed. Clearly, what had possessed him to protest the way he did, was now gone. He was a changed man, “immediately.”
Now comes the understatement! The people in that congregation, having just witnessed a scene that would rival anything from the movie “The Exorcist,” looked around at each other and said, “What is this? A new teaching – with authority!”