This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
The fruit of war: French soldier killed by Somali terrorists
15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love* towards all the saints, and for this reason16I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.17I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him,18so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints,19and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.20God* put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,21far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.22And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church,23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
It’s important to be patient with the rather wordy style of this author, as he/she has good things to say. God is not messing about. By raising Jesus to his “right hand” he reveals Him as the one who shares his rule over all the powers of the world for all time. But this Jesus Christ is no longer an individual but rather a corporate person, who shares his life (as he has done on the cross!) with those who trust in him. This sharing is not without differentiation: Christ is the head of this “new humanity” and those who trust are his body; but they do genuinely share in all his goodness. Using the language of religious speculation, the author calls the Christian Assembly, “the fullness of his him who fills all in all.” God’s aim is clear: to create through Jesus Christ one humanity at peace, animated by the one divine Spirit, sharing the life of Christ as children of the one God.
The comedy of this way of talking will not be lost on the modern reader. Here were scattered groups of mainly lower class people in the Roman Empire, professing a barbarian faith from a land known for its religious extremism, who announce themselves as the next rulers of the universe! Absurd! It’s easy to see the grandiose scope of this faith, and perhaps to mock it, while missing the fact of these unique communities in whom most of the significant barriers of the ancient world had been broken down-family race, power, wealth, these barriers proved weak in the face of their quiet friendliness. Perhaps a very astute imperial agent might have sensed the danger they posed.
For the modern reader the challenge is to see what the author saw-a perverse divine logic in uniting all races in one rejected by his own race and giving all power to one who died powerless. Such a person threatens no-one and invites all.
The Beginning of the Galilean Ministry
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news* of God,*15and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near;* repent, and believe in the good news.’*
Jesus Calls the First Disciples
16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen.17And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’18And immediately they left their nets and followed him.19As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets.20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
The Man with an Unclean Spirit
21 They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught.22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit,24and 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.’25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’26And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions 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.’28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
For Mark, Jesus is already in his earthly ministry the crucified-and-risen Lord Jesus. He as it were packs all he knows about Jesus into this picture that he calls “good news.” Jesus is depicted as a bodily source of life. That’s why he is like a liberating tornado blowing through the little villages of Galilee.
This almost savage force is seen in his call to his first disciples: there’s no preparation, or persuasion; just a blunt command which calls people from family loyalty and common sense to fish for people. “God’s dear son” needs help in his fight against the powers of evil and he won’t take no for an answer. Indeed, people without number are to be gathered into God’s net-not a pretty picture but one which emphasises God’s hungry desire to gather people under his rule. These fishermen respond by leaving everything to follow Jesus. In their case also, at this point, Mark collapses the different stages of their discipleship into this one, crucial act of obedience. Later he will show their disobedience.
The tornado then blows into Capernaum. In the synagogue the villagers hear new teaching which is not like that that of the scribes, a careful balancing of the opinions of great teachers, but has its own personal authority. Individualists as we are, we tend to see only the good side of this. For the authentic Jewish believer still, this kind of authority is suspected of arrogance, and criticised as missing the cut and thrust, the sane humour of the Jewish tradition.
This same authority however is further demonstrated in the way Jesus deals with the disturbed man. The man is “possessed” by an “unclean” spirit, that is, his integrity is broken by powers that lead him to offend against the religious law. However this has happened, the man is suffering. The leaders of the synagogue seem powerless in the face of this evil. Jesus issues a command to the transpersonal forces that bind the man, ordering his release. The commands of Jesus are depicted by Mark as similar to the command of God, “Let there be light…and there was light.” Here is someone who speaks for God, without even mentioning God. Here is someone who carries the fight to the powers of evil and rescues their victims.
Mark was writing around 70 CE, forty years after these events, probably for his own Christian community. Through his book Jesus strides into their lives, recruiting them for the battle against evil. People can only be caught for God if they are freed from the evil that binds their lives. Mark’s people are called to help. There is both modesty and grandeur in this vocation: it is after all, only helping other people; yet every small victory is evidence of a universal kingdom. It’s also the message which Mark’s gospel brings to its modern readers.