Jesus has entered the synagogue, the sacred space of the people. While that has obvious religious meaning, it also means that he is treading into the intimate areas of peoples’ lives that they hold sacred, the things that we carefully guard and resist letting others challenge or influence. Sometimes these are commitments, sometimes prejudices or biases, sometimes things we value or cherish. Sometimes they are lifegiving, and sometimes they are things we have never questioned that have a hold on us.
In this sacred space, Jesus takes a role that invites those present to size him up. Any man with knowledge of the scriptures could be invited to comment on the readings. Mark doesn’t tell us anything about the content of Jesus’s teaching, so we can’t know anything about it at this point. So we have to ask what we do know. Mark has previously given us the insider knowledge that Jesus is the Son of God. We know he has a strong and intimate connection with God. He spends time in prayer. He is filled with God’s spirit. Knowing only this much, we know that like his Father, he is filled with love for the poor, the marginalized, the suffering and the searching.
I imagine that what was astonishing for the people when they heard Jesus is that a “nobody” who is hanging out with a bunch of fishermen isn’t just offering opinions about which traditional biblical interpretation is best, like the scribes--the people educated and employed to do this for them. What they notice about him is that he speaks with authority, as if he was the author of the scriptures and knew the real meaning. As if this wasn’t enough controversy, in the midst of this experience a heckler yells out, interrupting the service, “a man with an unclean spirit.” He is no match for Jesus, who is in complete control, and “all were amazed.”
I suppose that could describe any one of us when confronted with the authority of God’s love for us. Although this is an extreme and dramatic case, it is intended to make the point clear. Mark’s Gospel is asking us to consider the experience of being challenged to let God’s love, God’s spirit of life, enter our sacred spaces and drive away our unclean spirits, our demons, and to set us free to ask, “what does this mean” for us?
There’s a directness and honesty in relationship with Jesus that affects people in different ways--people are challenged, people are healed, people are taught. Some are frightened, some are amazed, some feel threatened. How does witnessing Jesus’s ministry make you feel? How do you want Christ to affect you?
…what I want in my life is to be willing to be dazzled—to cast aside the weight of facts and maybe even to float a little above this difficult world. I want to believe that I am looking into the white fire of a great mystery. -Mary Oliver, “The Ponds”
Take your next step: Read this Sunday's Gospel and imagine being present as a tentative follower in Mark's first story of Jesus's public ministry. How does witnessing Jesus’s ministry make you feel?