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.
Back in August last year, there was a truckies’ protest in Canberra. The truckies had well known shock jock Alan Jones, speaking at the rally. He was one of the radio announcers implicated in the cash for comment affair at 2UE in 1999. So a journalist from the Sydney Morning Herald asked him if he was being paid to appear at this protest. Jones was outraged.
He named the journalist (Jaqueline Maley) over the PA system. Then he abused her.
I’m quoting from the Sydney Morning Herald.
"He said I should be ashamed of myself, that I was a 'grub' and asked me how I could look at myself in the mirror. He carried on in that vein for a while.
"I said I thought it was a legitimate question. He said 'No, of course I haven't [accepted a fee].' He continued to abuse me.
"I thanked him for answering the question and walked away."
But Maley said Jones continued to yell after her, attracting the attention of others in the crowd, who began to look at her.
"He yelled that I should go away, that I had no right to be there. A woman standing next to me started yelling at me, saying 'Get out of here! You've got no right to be here!'"....
There was booing and some in the crowd yelled at Maley, who said: "I found the whole experience extremely intimidating - having your name yelled out by Alan Jones in such a hostile way, to such a hostile crowd, who had already been whipped into a frenzy, and which contained some very extremist elements was frightening."
This is a power play. The journalist was an outsider who went to a meeting where she didn’t quite fit in. Jones reacted with anger. He defended himself by attacking her. And he rolled her. He won. She was intimidated, disempowered, and the meeting went on.
The same dynamic is happening in our bible reading today.
Jesus is the outsider who goes to a meeting. He began presenting a new teaching, a new interpretation of scripture and of the times. Any man could do this, just as any journalist can ask questions.
Some folk there were impressed. Jesus was a better speaker and presenter, it seems, than some of the professional clergy. But someone took offense. What do you think you are doing here, Jesus of Nazareth? – just like Alan Jones said, “I hope you’re listening and report this, Jacqueline Maley, from the Sydney Morning Herald—and then the spirit attacks Jesus. “Have you come to destroy us—I know who you are”—
Except this time, the outsider wins. Jesus rolls the spirit. 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.
And just to make sure we get the point, Mark tells us the story again:
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.
We have problem in our society around the whole issue of
evil unclean spirits; you can talk to me about that later if you want—but the point of the reading today is that the outsider was attacked with power; the sort of aggression which intimidates people and silences them, and yet the outsider, Jesus, won the encounter. He is the One with authority.
So at the very beginning of the gospel, Mark is giving his listeners a message: this new teaching of Jesus has authority. You can see it in action!
The new teaching was written out for us only a few verses back. Jesus said,
‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news;’ that’s what Jesus said.
It’s now. The time has come. God has taken control. God is changing things; it’s started. God is taking on all the evil in the world. Things are going to be put right. It will be so thorough; the world will be so changed, that even the wolf and lamb will live peacefully together. (That’s in the book of Isaiah.)
We might ask, “How can I have this? How can I see this?”
We went to visit my Grandma once. She was 92, and living in an old folk’s home.
When we arrived, Grandma’s room was empty. We wandered around looking for a staff person to ask. They said, “Oh yes, Mrs Wilkin. She’ll be up helping Mrs. MacDonald this time of day.”
It turned out that Grandma had a little group of old ladies she helped get started every morning; all younger than she was.
When she came back; all she had was two little rooms and a pension, she sat down and received us like the Queen. It’s not as though she put on airs, or anything, she was simply calm, collected, in control; reassuring, actually.
I can hear her saying to old Mrs MacDonald, who was only eighty-three, “It’ll be alright, Elizabeth. Don’t worry. Don’t fuss. Let’s just try it again. You’ll be right.”
She had authority.
And she got that, because a long time before, she had repented and believed in the kingdom. She’d stopped what she was doing, and turned in a different direction, and spent her life as she brought up her kids and looked after Grandpa, living it the way she imagined Jesus would live it. That’s... how... she believed. She didn’t have fancy theology. She just did what she did. She put her money where her mouth was.
It had a profound effect on her. As a very old woman, with no money, and a limited future, she had authority... and a certain peace. She influenced the lives of her children and grandchildren, and the other people around her. She built kingdom.
Here’s the thing: I don’t for a moment think Grandma didn’t have worries. I’m sure she had times of suffering and tiredness, and times when she was sick of being sick, and ready for it all to stop. We all do.
But she had a vision. She had an innate authority and peace about her that inspired others. It carried her through tough times. It was her “take” on the kingdom of God. God is offering us the same; a vision, a hope, a transformation that will make life different.
It has power and authority. All we have to do is stop where we are going, and live life Jesus’ way. Do what we can to live how he would live in our shoes, here today. And if that’s what we’re doing already—keep at it. It’s changing us. It’s turning us into the sort of people that someone will see and say, “Well, I’m not sure where my life’s going.... but if I can be like her, at that age, I shall be well pleased!”
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.