Mark 1:21-28 (NRSV)
The Man with an Unclean Spirit
21 They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and 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.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They 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.” 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
He taught with real authority
This week’s passage in Mark shows us what it looks like when people are surprised by a fresh approach to God, religion, faith, or maybe just life in general. Jesus spoke with authority and people listened; he spoke boldly, not hiding behind the teachings of other rabbis and scholars, the way people would have ordinarily taught. Jesus’ confidence stemmed from the belief that he was speaking God’s words; words that people needed to hear, and would benefit from.
This insight made me realise something I am guilty of, which I’m sure some of you are too. I water down my faith to make it sound more palatable — I say things like “well I believe this about God / the world / spirituality, but I also recognise that I don’t have all the answers.” There is nothing inherently wrong with humility, particularly in conversations (on any topic) where people are coming from different perspectives. And I truly believe I don’t have all the answers. But I also passionately believe that there is a God and a Holy Spirit, and that following Jesus has changed the way I see myself, others, and the world. Jesus spoke with authority. What would it look like if we spoke with a humble authority, knowing that since our lives have been changed by our faith, people would benefit from seeing how passionate we are.
I understand that people don’t get why we have a faith. In today’s culture it seems backwards and antiquated. Public perceptions of Christianity have been damaged time and again by any number of people, events, scandals, and misperceptions of what it means to follow Jesus. But Jesus was the refreshing one. He was the one who broke the rules (v. 21: teaching on the Sabbath), he dealt with the evil spirit with a no-nonsense command (v. 25: “be quiet! Come out of the man”). He had no time for that rubbish — he had a job to do. And his approach amazed people. They had never seen anything like it before.
This passage shows us that we were supposed to be different. We were not supposed to be the high and mighty religious bigots, as far removed from the struggling members of our society as we could get. Jesus’ examples are not just lessons for being a good person. They should be life-changing and world-changing.
The news about Jesus spread quickly
What is the news about Jesus today? It is so often tied to politics, but is that where Jesus can be found? Christians should be followers of Jesus, not politically religious or religiously political. While change can and does happen on a large scale in political realms, I would argue that if Jesus were here, he would not be found in our government buildings, or hanging out with the movers and shakers of the world. I believe Jesus would be found in the rubble of Hurricane Maria, with people whose lives were destroyed before their eyes. He would be with Rohingya families as they seek safety and a life that is worth living. He would be with the homeless sitting on our city’s street corners, and the children trafficked across the world who experience unthinkable things. He would be with the orphans and the childless in countless war-torn societies.
The quiet power of small acts of kindness cannot be underestimated, especially in the current political climate. We could spend forever pontificating and debating, giving out about politicians and celebrities, or about religion, or about culture. But until we engage in the uncomfortable, gritty reality of making this world a better place, we don’t achieve much. So I challenge you reader, whatever you believe in, but particularly if you follow Jesus, to make today better for one person. Jesus would look around him and ask “who needs my help.” And then he would get to work. Because he practiced what he preached. And we can do the same.
Katie is an aspiring writer, an eternal intern, and a passionate Jesus-Feminist. With a Master’s in International Development and a Bachelors in Sociology and French, she is qualified for ... making lattes and pulling pints (skills that she has put to great use). Currently in New York on a Graduate visa, and having lived in Edinburgh for two years.