HOMILY & IDEAS

Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9; 1 Corinthians 7:32-35; Mark 1:21-28.

Turning Over Stones

Here are some stones I have overturned to see what ideas are underneath. I hope you can grab hold of something, pull -- and discover that it has some homiletic roots for you.

Then they came to Capernaum, and on the sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.

Where?

Capernaum was a town in the time of Jesus located on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee -- actually a freshwater lake some 13 miles long, 8.5 miles wide, with a maximum depth of 150 feet. The lake is surrounded by mountains 1,200-1,500 feet high and one can look across it from any direction. Capernaum was a small port on the Sea of Galilee mostly serving fisherman and the fishing industry. It is thought to be the town where Jesus resided during his public life, the town from which Peter operated his fishing business, the town in which the mother-in-law of Peter lived (and was healed by Jesus), and the town in which Jesus called Matthew -- and perhaps some of the other twelve -- to discipleship.

Today the ruins of Capernaum can be viewed and walked through. The excavation site is about the size of three city blocks and at the center of the site stand the remnants of a 4th century synagogue, 65 feet in length, constructed from lightly colored limestone. Although these ruins are not that of the synagogue mentioned in the Gospel, one will note that the ruins sit upon a sturdy and sizable foundation of black basalt stone which is very likely the original foundation of the original synagogue. There was no sense in reinventing the wheel and confusing the weekly routine of life; the new was simply built upon the old. If you are ever in Capernaum, note where the limestone meets the black basalt and stand in the midst of the newer synagogue trusting that you are within feet of the action that unfolds in the Gospel.

When?

The unfolding of these events occur on the Sabbath early on in the Gospel of Mark. The Sabbath was observed from sundown on Friday until nightfall on Saturday. In the time of Jesus this was observed by all of Israel -- the Israelites, resident aliens, slaves and farm animals. During the sabbath there was no baking, cooking, food-gathering, traveling, plowing, reaping, commerce, carrying or any work of any kind. Rather, it was a time for rest and walking to the synagogue where readings from the Pentateuch and the Prophets could be heard as well as preaching and the chanting of Psalms.

The presence of Jesus in the synagogue and his teaching action were not out of place. Any educated Jewish male could preach in the synagogue. However, there is a special authority detected in the teaching of, and the delivery from Jesus which the observers can not help but perceive. What made Jesus stand out from the Scribes of the Synagogue? Jesus taught with personal authority. The authority of the scribes was rooted in their knowledge of, and their dependence on the Law. The authority of Jesus was independent of the Law. Jesus spoke as the Holy One of God and his authority came vertically from his Father and not horizontally through the Law.

In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit; 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!

An exhaustive look into a First Century understanding of unclean spirits would require some serious megabytage; however, the great William Barclay summarizes it nicely in his Gospel of Mark Commentary within the Daily Study Bible Series. In short, the Israelites believed in demons or unclean spirits. They were numerous and many believed that they were either as old as creation itself, or that they were the spirits of evil men who had died and were still infesting the earth with hate and dread. They lived in unclean places; for example, near tombs or where clean, running water was not available (the desert). There was a belief that certain conditions made individuals vulnerable targets of unclean spirits: traveling alone, giving birth, traveling after dark, or while enduring the midday heat. The Israelites believed that there were demons of leprosy, demons of paralyzation, demons of blindness, and demons of heart disease, etc. A man who thought himself possessed by such an unclean spirit would maintain a cognizance of both his own being and that of another being who would exercise a good measure of autonomous influence. To excise this unclean spirit an Exorcist -- either religious by nature, or pagan -- would utilize elaborate and lengthy rites, incantations and spells.

This may explain how sickness and seemingly autonomous voices and actions manifested itself; however; Did there exist actual demons sent from the Evil One who possessed individuals independently of any outward signs of sickness in the time of Jesus? Perhaps. We do not know.

In this verse Jesus is identified by both his humanity and his divinity: Jesus of Nazareth and the Holy One of God.

Jesus rebuked him and said -- Quiet! Come out of him! The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him.

No Exorcist in the time of Jesus exorcised a demon using five words delivered in the space of about 10 seconds; yet, this is exactly what Jesus does. No incense, no chanting, no elaborate dances or gestures, no bleedings, no use of external objects thought to contain exorcising power. Instead, five words delivered with infinite authority. His authority to teach is personal as well as his power to exorcise. It does not rely upon externals. For me, this is the PUNCH of the gospel. It is a forceful display of the absolute power of Jesus.

All were amazed and asked on another -- What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him. His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.

The response is appropriate. Amazement, and the widespread communication of His fame.

My homily this week will focus on our trust and belief in the power of Jesus -- the power of his actions and words in our lives.

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