The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
February 7, 2021
Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins and give us, we beseech thee, the liberty of that abundant life which thou hast manifested to us in thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
2 Kings 4:(8-17) 18-21 (22-31) 32-37
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Today we continue our exploration of the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel. So much has happened, and so quickly, and yet we have learnt so much. With speed, Mark is intentionally building upon a theme, a theme that will remain central to his gospel: Jesus’ identity. With each successive snippet, Mark is constructing his Christology, giving us a clearer picture of exactly who Jesus is, his relationship to the forces of the Cosmos, and his importance within salvation history.
Even before we meet Jesus, John declared him to be the one “who is mightier than I,” the one who “will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.” Almost as soon as Jesus makes his appearance, “a voice came from heaven” and announced “thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.” Jesus is quickly identified as the prophesied messiah, the one of whom Isaiah spoke, and immediately he is driven “into the wilderness,” emerging forty days later unscathed and the recipient of ministry (diakonia) from the angels. We learn that he is clearly stronger than the forces of Satan by whom he had been tempted. Jesus then, with the force of his will, the power of his offer to those he meets to be made “fishers of men,” draws to him his first four disciples, who are willing to drop their nets at a moment’s notice, change their lives and follow him. Even before he has shown himself to the people, we have learnt that Jesus is strong, that he exercises power, and that he has been singled out by the Holy Spirit.
Last week we heard about Jesus’ first forays into public ministry when he went with his new friends into Capernaum and he taught in the synagogue and drove out the unclean sprit. Today we find Jesus healing and exorcising once again. And we are still only thirty-nine lines into Mark’s narrative. Both this week and last we see the reaction of the people to Jesus’ work. Over and over they find what he is doing remarkable, even astonishing.
What was astonishing to them, however, was not the fact that Jesus taught or that he cast out a demon, or even that he showed power. Most religions in this period saw the cosmos as populated by forces, many of which were malevolent and possessing the ability to act against human beings, to possess them, and make them ill. “Popular religion in the Greco-Roman period [including Judaism] was very much concerned with liberation from these malevolent powers”(1) What was remarkable, was that the people recognised that Jesus’ power to do these things came from a particular source.
And here we see Mark building up his emerging Christology. What the people recognised, and what they especially saw in the accounts we heard the last two Sundays, was that what Jesus exercised was not mere power, but authority. What I mean by this is that the things that Jesus is doing and saying come not from within himself alone, but originate with, have literally been authorised by the author of all things. Jesus is different from the magicians and priests of other cults, and this is most clearly visible in how Jesus’ works are expressed not in the exercise of dominance over others or in the amassing of power to himself, but in service.(2)
Jesus is the one who teaches, heals the sick, and casts out demons with the authority of the God of Israel. The people recognise that he is special, that he has authority and uses it for the benefit of the people. Most importantly, the people see Jesus exercising power over those forces of the Cosmos in the shadow of which people lived every day. The people see that those powers in turn acknowledge Jesus. They know him. Jesus is able to control those malevolent forces that bring sickness, loss, and confusion. Having been empowered by the Holy Spirit he “brings wholeness,” healing wherever he goes.(3)
Our faith is remarkable. Christianity is not the religion of a book. It is not a religion centred on an unseen, distant God or gods who toy with us humans. It is a way, centred on a man who walked the same earth as we did and entered into a moment in history and changed everything. This man is also the Son of God, God’s chosen, God’s beloved, God’s anointed one who exercises with true authority power over the forces of the Cosmos who are lurking around every corner. This Son of God, recognised by those forces that seek to destroy the works of love and interfere with both our spiritual and physical health, is the one who comes to us. He helps us, heals us, makes us one with him and each other and gives us not just power, but authority ourselves to work on his behalf. Healed and made whole in Christ as we are, we are empowered to lives of service, that diakonia, shown us by Simon’s mother following her recovery. In this way Christology, the understanding of Jesus’ identity, is not just an academic exercise, it is a spiritual exercise we undertake each day as we come to grips with the gift that has been given us by God in sending Jesus to come among us and calling us to the same waters of baptism to which Our Lord was called, and in which we, too, become beloved children of God
Andrew Charles Blume✠
New York City
The Dorchester Chaplains (tr), 6 February 2021
(1) John R. Donahue, SJ, and Daniel J. Harrington, SJ, The Gospel of Mark, Sacra Pagina Series, 2 (Colleveville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2002), 82
(2) Donahue and Harrington 2002, 79.
(3) Donahue and Harrington 2002, 82.
© 2021 Andrew Charles Blume