A reflection on the readings for Deuteronomy 18. 15-20, Psalm 111, Revelation 12. 1-5a, Mark 1.21-28 by the Rev. Dr. Sarah Rogers
I can still remember the first time I preached. It was while I was going through the selection process for ordination. My Vicar was going on holiday and needed me to cover evensong and he thought it would be a good idea if I had a go at preaching as well. It was pretty nerve-wracking – my head was full of all sorts of thoughts. Will they yawn? What if someone looks at their watch? What if I clam up? Well, it didn’t go too badly, I suppose, but, I'm afraid that I fell into the trap that many a novice preacher falls into - I put too much in...it was Trafalgar Day, so Nelson so it included a good sea story about Nelson, it was also Bible Sunday, so I think I preached on all of the readings including the Psalm. Although the vicar wasn't there a trusted friend came along to support me. Thankfully, it wasn’t until afterwards I discovered that the couple sat in the front row wearing Grimsby football shirts were in fact the bishop of Grimsby and his wife who had been to watch Grimsby play Cardiff...!
I wonder what Jesus would have felt like that day. We at least get a reasonable time to prepare our sermons. We know what the readings are in advance, we have time to think, to pray, to read commentaries, to clarify our thoughts before we preach.
Jesus would have walked into the synagogue been handed a scroll and been asked to read - then he would have taught on what he had just read. It probably wasn’t the first time he had taught in the Synagogue, although it is the first time we hear about him doing so in Mark’s gospel. So, yes, I wonder how Jesus felt that day. It was probably similar to how a new teacher feels when they stand in front of a new class, or a preacher in front of a new congregation. Jesus was perhaps a new face in Capernaum, although perhaps his reputation had preceded him. Can you imagine turning up to a new church and being asked to preach (or even read the lesson) as soon as you walked through the door?
Jesus spoke with authority. I'm pretty sure he was succinct - brief and to the point. His authority was becoming established very quickly. Here we are now at the last Sunday of Epiphany, very soon our attention will be turning towards Lent and the journey to the cross and the resurrection. For now, we are just reminding ourselves of how quickly Jesus’ ministry began once the appointed time had arrived. Jesus has been baptised by John in the river Jordan, he has chosen his first disciples and he has performed his first miracle at Cana of Galilee. Now he is teaching with authority in the Synagogue at Capernaum, and things take a turn – enter those who will oppose him. His teaching in the Synagogue doesn’t raise any challenges, but clearly he has made an impact, he teaches in a different way to the scribes. That is bound to cause conflict before too long. Then he is confronted with a man with an unclean spirit. The unclean spirit knows who they are encountering, the Holy one of God. But again Jesus speaks with clear authority. ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ I can’t help feeling that the unclean spirit was the easier to deal with, they responded to Jesus’ authority and the man was healed. The scribes however, would not have responded in the same way, indeed it soon becomes clear that they don’t. Indeed, they are threatened by Jesus’ authority. I wonder whether they realise that it is they who have been stifling the faith of those around them? Probably not. What they do see is someone who challenges their authority, they see the way people respond to Jesus and how his popularity is spreading and they want to quash it.
In one way Jesus is a calming influence, in that he frees the man of the unclean spirit, the spirit puts up a bit of a challenge, there is convulsing and crying out, but the spirit leaves and peace is restored. On the other hand Jesus also confronts and challenges the opposition. He doesn’t do so directly in this instance and there appears to be no reproach, no reciprocal challenge, but clearly the challenge is there and it will soon become a clear threat to those in authority.
That word authority. Whose authority? Jesus spoke with authority which would soon challenge those in authority, the scribes and the Pharisees. What is authority? How should we, how do we respond to authority? In thinking about that question I can’t help thinking about the challenges that face the Street Pastors on a Saturday night here on the streets of Caerphilly. When people are drunk and confrontational the authority of the police doesn’t go down to well, their intervention may make a situation worse. And yet, the Street Pastors, uniformed to identify who they are, but also signifying authority, bring a calming influence to problematic situations. That relationship is no less complicated that the situation that Jesus found himself in. However, the authority of the Street Pastors as a Christian organisation is treated with much more respect by the general public than ‘the Authorities’ (the police). That perhaps is not dissimilar to the situation Jesus found himself in and the impact he had on the community and the effect that had on the Authorities. Thankfully, 2000 yrs on Street Pastors are seen as working with (rather than against) the authorities – that is quite a major change.
As Christians we are called to emulate Christ, we are called to submit to His authority. Street Pastors do that in a very effective way, and thankfully they aren’t met with the opposition that Christ was. In doing so, the Street Pastors show the love of Jesus in this community. Jesus showed his love for his community by bringing them the new gospel, the new authority of the new commandment to ‘love one another as I have loved you.’ We as Christians are all called to emulate Jesus and bring the gospel to others by loving them as Jesus loved us. For those who followed Jesus in those early days that love was so energising that they simply obeyed and followed his example and that is what we too must do, here today.