We are still in chapter one of Mark’s gospel and already Jesus has set to work demonstrating the nearness of the kingdom in his teaching and healing and liberating those who turn to him from all that binds and restoring them to the fullness of life. (Fourth Sunday after Epiphany. Mark 1:21-28.)
You may wish to consider what I wrote three years ago focusing on the Corinthians reading.
The gospel of Mark is succinct in length and urgent in atmosphere. Having only met Jesus a few verses ago he is striding into action teaching and healing with the authority of the beloved one of God and making visible the nearness of the kingdom.
Mark does not distinguish between Jesus the teacher and Jesus the healer. For Mark they are expressions of the same power, love and intention: the power of the author of creation and wisdom, the love of the God of all things not to overlook the lost or the least, and the intention to liberate all who will consider the gift to participate in the kingdom of God – now!
Jesus brings healing, restoration and liberation to those individuals and communities that are bound and broken, constrained and corrupted. Before we explore much further we need to say something about the demons that posses the man in the synagogue. The language of demons makes some of us uncomfortable so it is worth wondering what that might mean. I think we can read demons as including evil spirits but also a first century explanation of physical and mental ill health, of social ills and systemic evil – of all that binds and brutalizes. The man who was possessed with demons would have suffered not only physically but also socially as he would have been marginalised and probably struggled to earn an income and excluded from normal social participation. So when Jesus heals him it is not only physical but it is also social, psychological and of course spiritual!
The teaching and healing power of Jesus sets people free to fully participate in life. Back then and now. The teachings of Jesus were never intended to be only "spiritual" but about the whole of the individuals life and how the whole of society lived. And we in the church are sometimes the worst at seeking to confine the relevance of Jesus' teachings and healing powers to the safety and comfort of individual problems.
The challenge of the gospel, particularly according to Mark, is to see and hear how all encompassing and challenging the teachings and promises of Jesus are! And in our current situation we surely can recognise that sense of urgency at every level - environmental, political and economic, in our social relationships across every divide, and in our own broken and weary spirits. We need a whole of person, whole of society, whole of church awakening to the extent of our possession by the spirit of hopelessness and convenience, division and despair, and we need to find ourselves shocked and excited by the liberating message and example of Jesus.
Each of us needs to honestly reflect on where in our individual lives, in our personal relationships, in our worship communities, and in our world are we possessed - by fear and self satisfaction, by greed and striving, by mind numbing entertainment and distraction, by hunger and a surfeit of what does not satisfy? Not to be shamed but to be set free. And we need to honestly consider how we bind others in judgements and relationships that restrict and reduce their human dignity and freedom to thrive. So that having been liberated ourselves we seek the liberation of the whole world of which we are a part.
The gospel of Mark might be brief in word count but it pulls no punches, no wriggle room, when encountering a Jesus who has a purpose and strides towards it with conviction and courage. It is late in the day but not too late! Let us thrill to the power of the author of all life, the love that does not exclude, and the desire to liberate us from all that constrains and corrupts us so that we can live into our God given fullness.
Even so, come Lord Jesus the Christ, come unloose us from all that binds us so that we can follow you into life.