They went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 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.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 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.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
All this happens on the Sabbath. The day of worship and rest. For our purposes, it might as well be Sunday. First, the usual: Jesus, a young rabbi, teaches. Then, the unusual: people are interested – very interested – in what he says. In fact, Mark says, “they were astounded.” Why? Because he taught with authority.
But what does that mean? That he was confident, that he was believable, that he was persuasive or charismatic or said what people wanted to hear or, or, or what? We don’t know for sure. But I bet it’s that he honest-to-goodness believed the kingdom of God was at hand. He could feel it, taste it, see it, and he wanted others to as well.
The unusual, part two: a man is suffering. And not suffering in general, but from possession by an unclean spirit. A man is suffering from being possessed and he’s in the synagogue. Not out in the wilderness, or at the edge of town, or hidden in someone’s guest bedroom. He’s at synagogue; again, for us, let’s just call it church. And it’s Sunday. And right there on the day it’s not supposed to happen and in the place it’s not supposed to happen, an unclean spirit possesses a man.
Maybe it’s not so unusual after all. Bad stuff happens at the synagogue. Bad stuff happens at church. Let’s stop pretending it isn’t so. And let’s do something about it. But what?
Notice that Jesus doesn’t rebuke the man. He doesn’t take him out of the synagogue or wait until Sabbath is over. He doesn’t tell him to leave. No, he sees the unclean spirit for what it is – a challenge to God’s promise and intention of health and life for all of God’s children – and he takes it on. Jesus has been preaching and teaching that the kingdom of God is at hand. What does that mean? Pay attention, because Jesus is about to show us. First and foremost it means that God in Jesus will oppose anything that stands against God’s desire that all of God’s children enjoy health and life. Even when it happens on Sunday…in church.
Prayer: Dear God, grant us the courage to stand with all of your children who are suffering and to stand against all that makes them suffer. In Jesus’ name, Amen.