February 1, 2015 –– 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Deuteronomy 18:15–20 / 1 Corinthians 7:32–35 / Mark 1:21–28
The Presence of God’s Kingdom
If you could have a face-to-face meeting with Pope Francis and ask him one question, what would it be? During the recent papal visit to the Philippines, twelve-year-old Glyzelle Palomar––who had been rescued from a literal life on the streets with its starvation, sex abuse, rampant drug activity and gang warfare––covered her face with her hand as she wept in front of a microphone and asked Pope Francis, “Why did God let this happen to us?”
What would you say to Glyzelle if she asked you the same question? This is perhaps the most basic issue that confronts human beings, especially when pain and injustice come too close. The Gospel of Mark gives us one of the ways God has chosen to explain what he is doing in our world.
Mark begins his Gospel by saying that Jesus came proclaiming the Kingdom of God. If we had been there we would have seen…. a peasant Galilean carpenter accompanied by a rag-muffin type of following. Jesus himself was more like a street person than some outwardly commanding persona. So what caused people to realize that, with Jesus and the Kingdom he proclaimed, the world is more than it often seems? In our world of pain and death, we need some kind of assurance that God’s Kingdom is real.
We are not patient. Most of the time we would impulsively choose a super-hero kind of god. We want John Wayne to come in with guns blazing or Rambo to “whup-up” on all the bad guys (I’m out of touch with contemporary vengeance figures!). God doesn’t work that way. God does not overwhelm us; God wants to win our trust…. and our hearts.
Why should we give Jesus our trust and, even more, our hearts? Jesus had authority. Here was, by all external standards, an ordinary man who normally would have been a nobody. But when he talked, people were amazed. When he acted, people were astounded. And as he talked and acted, people could not help but be attracted.
Mark tells about a Sabbath day when Jesus stood to speak in the synagogue. The synagogue was the place where the Scriptures were read. As Jesus spoke in the synagogue that day, he spoke a new message and used himself as the basis for it. What would you think if I stood before you and said "God is doing a new thing, and it’s me"? We can understand why the Jewish leaders were upset with Jesus.
Yet there was his commanding authority. There was something that caused people to see beyond the simple Galilean peasant. There was life in what he spoke. There was a freshness and a reality––a power. When Jesus spoke, people listened. Jesus had authority.
Still, words can be deceptive. Someone like Hitler can express tremendous power with words so that he gets a following by emotionally manipulating people. Jesus' authority was challenged on the spot. In the synagogue was a man who was under the control of a demonic spirit. An onlooker would have seen the man get to his feet, but it was an evil spirit using the man's vocal chords which did the speaking: What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are––the Holy One of God! This demon knew exactly what was happening, and it was reacting. Satan fights back when his territory is invaded and challenged. In his first letter John says, The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work (3:8).
Here is where Jesus proved the authority behind his words. His talk of the kingdom of God was not mere talk. Jesus spoke again, and it was a command to the demon. The verb there is simply, "Shut up." Sometimes we need to tell the powers of hell––in the Name of Jesus––to shut up. But not only did Jesus make the demon shut up, he made it come out and leave the man. The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. The meaning was clear to the people in the synagogue: A new teaching with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him. Again hear St John: The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work.
As we live in this world––a world that is broken and even demon-filled––we in the Church need to know that we follow the One who has authority in this world. We belong to the King who has given us citizenship in his Kingdom. Yet, the world is not totally healed. God is not Rambo. He doesn’t do everything at once, and he does not do amazing things merely to impress us so that we’re almost forced to believe. St Paul tells us it’s only at the End that Jesus will hand over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power (1Cor 15:24). Until then we wait…. and sometimes we weep.
Can we see that even our pain can be a sign of God at work? He has created us to desire what is right and true and good. We are invited to turn to Jesus with our brokenness. We are invited to believe––and hope and trust––that Jesus can still heal. In fact, this is our response just before we are freshly nourished by the Eucharist: Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed. We are encouraged to be bold in the face of evil. The Son of God came to destroy the devil's work. Demons are all too real. Their delight is to ravage the lives of people like Glyzelle… and you and me. Our hope and trust is that Jesus is bigger than demons and evil and all the hard things.
When you go out into your part of the world this week, what do you expect to see and hear? If this week holds more pain and disappointment than pleasure and contentment, it does not mean that God is not at work. Jesus has already triumphed over sin and death and hell. He is giving us time to believe it. If you believe in the Jesus Mark tells us about, you know that God's Kingdom has come and that Jesus is the King.