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MK 1: 21-28
The 4th Sunday after the Epiphany

Capernaum often figures in Jesus' ministry. Not so much a centre of operations, as a focus where he concentrates a lot of ministry effort. Already we see a pattern shaping up: a] being an 'observant Jew' even though he is at odds with the 'official' church of his that why he follows JB out into the desert? b] teaching within the framework of that church's grass roots worship as well as out & about in the margins; c] reaching out to people in the 'too hard' basket (very marginalised); d] confronting evil, in this case in the form of 'demon possession'; e] being prepared to break out of the Sabbath-keeping straight-jacket when compassion demands it; f] displaying an inherent authority people can't miss. g] News of This Man just has to get around. Maybe we can see other pointers to his modus operandi?

People recognize in Jesus an authority beyond the words he speaks 'from the the pulpit'. The question of authority, & whence it derives, won't go away. Can people recognize Jesus' authority behind our words, or not? Many people outside our ranks, out in the margins, have decided agin us, on the whole, on this score.

Christians can be off-puttingly, over-confidently arrogant, in what they claim for their view of God. Jesus' confidence in tackling this chap (suffering a severe epileptic seizure, a severe personality disorder, or some such thing?) is, on the other hand, an antidote to the under-confidence a lot of us seem to display when the really hard ones face us. Years ago I was briefly 'frozen' when a colleague collapsed in front of me during his sermon (not mine!) A doctor in the congregation quickly came out to the front to give medical help, took in my situation, & said very quietly but firmly to me, "Pray for him!" I did! The congregation did! (He made a quick recovery in hospital from a stress related illness.) A lot of factors are at work under- mining our confidence in God today. Jesus, by example, says, "Be confident!...Pray for him / her!..Get your hands dirty for him / her!" Or whatever it is that's needed. Not all of us would want to exorcise a 'demon' these days. But that's not an excuse for not doing something else positive.

This story of the man with an unclean spirit & its casting out by Jesus raises a key issue that divides biblical conservatives from those who take a more open-ended view of things: whether we're bound to understand biblical illnesses or other conditions in 1st century terms. (In this case, unclean spirit v schizophrenia, v bi-polar disease, v epilepsy, v. what else?) As God is always the God of now, not then, what's our problem in coming to terms with biblical scenarios by applying 21st C understandings.

A by-line to that story: MK's 'Messianic Secret' theme starts right here, with Jesus not wanting the man noising abroad that he's 'God's Holy One' before he's ready for that. Despite this, we're told his fame (lit. 'news of him') spreads abroad quickly. Do we wonder though, whether the Messianic Secret isn't being so well kept still among Jesus' people today that there's little fear of spreading his fame far & wide - or even near at hand!