You’ll Never Be the Same

 

Daybreak. The village of Bethsaida. The air is hot and dry and still. And something is astir. Jesus has come to the “house of fishing”.

You hurry down to the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Your husband and his brother have been fishing long before daybreak. You carry with you a clay jar full of water and a cloth.

Along the shore are baskets of fish. The village women and merchants have come to purchase the salted tilapia. You know that your husband will reserve some for his family and for the widows. And though there over two hundred boats on the water, you spot your husband’s and his brother’s boat.

At the edge of the water you hear “The time is fulfilled! God’s Kingdom is arriving! Turn back and believe the good news!” Jesus, walking along the shore, is coming toward you.

Trying to get your husband’s attention, you wave. He and his brother are busy casting nets. You shout. “Look! Jesus is coming this way!” Your husband finally hears your voice and turns toward you.

Jesus walks up to you. From the same vantage point he calls out to your husband and his brother, “Follow me! I’ll have you fishing for people!”

At once, your husband and his brother let go of their nets and bring the boat to shore. At once, they begin to follow Jesus along the shoreline. You follow them, two steps to their one, with the clay jar of water. You soak the cloth in the water. With it your husband proceeds to wipe his brow and then his beard to remove the crusted salt – sweat from his brow. You hand him the clay jar. Dehydrated, he gulps half the water down and then hands the jar to his brother.

Further down Jesus calls “Follow me!” to two men mending their nets. You know them – James and John, the sons of Zebedee. The brothers leave their boat and their father and the hired servants behind.

At this point, you’ve run out of breath and are not able to keep up. You call to your husband, “I’m going home. My mother is not feeling well.” Your husband acknowledges but goes on, determined to keep his eyes on Jesus.

As you watch him and the fellowship of fishermen continue down the shore, you remember the words of the prophet Isaiah that were read in the synagogue last Shabbat:

The Lord God helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame

Zebedee calls to you. “I will have my hired hands take care of your boat. I will sell the fish you husband caught and bring you fish for you and the widows.” You thank him. Carrying the clay jar and the cloth you head home pondering all that has happened. Every woman in Bethsaida knew what Mary had said about Jesus. Something begins to stir in your heart.

An hour or so later your husband and his brother are at the door. They tell you that they are going to Capernaum with Jesus and are not sure when they will return. You give them some bread to take with. Before your husband takes off, you stop him at the door. “Could he be the one? He’s talking about a kingdom. I don’t want you getting killed. What’s his plan?”

Your husband responds. “Woman, there is only one way to find out.”

Sweat runs down his temples to his beard. The midday sun is blazing. You hand him his mantle, which he throws over his shoulder. He races off with his brother Andrew. He calls to John and James who are already fifty paces ahead of them and Jesus is ten paces ahead of them. He wants them to wait up. Your husband is a big man with a big heart and is impulsive to a fault. He takes strides in all directions. And today, you wonder what will become of him and the fishing business as he takes off in a new direction.

On your way home you stop and give the widows the salted fish and to hear rumors. You learn that many were repenting and were being baptized in the River Jordan by John the Baptist, Jesus among them. And that when he came out of the water there was a dove and a large booming voice that said “You are my son! You are the one I love! You make me very glad!” There is so much more for you to ponder.

At home you prepare for Shabbat which begins just before nightfall. You sweep and clean your home from top to bottom. You cover the sales money so it is out of sight. You make sure there is oil in the two lamps.

The night settles in. You eat food prepared earlier. You care for your mother who now has a fever. As you wipe her head with a damp cloth you talk with her about Jesus until you can’t stop yawning. You go to your bed. You are glad that you and your husband sleep in separate rooms, for when your husband sleeps, he snores – a nightly ritual even on Shabbat. Tonight, there will be the moaning of your delirious mother.

As you fall asleep you imagine your husband walking to Capernaum. He would walk two hours in the hot sun. Did he have water? Maybe the journey would take less time with the strides Jesus takes. When will he return …?

 

Your husband and his brother and James and John return the next day. They are all at the door with Jesus. He had been told about your mother and her illness. Jesus goes in, takes your mother by the hand, and raises her up. At once, her fever is gone and she was well enough to feed them. How is this possible, you ask yourself? But there is no time to wonder as you want to feed them all. Your heart is brimming with thanksgiving.

Outside your home there is large crowd – people from all over Galilee have followed Jesus. Jesus goes out to them. People with all kinds of diseases are brought to him and he heals them. Inside, the four fishermen sit down on the floor. You place bread and fish and water before them. As you do you ask them for details of what happened in Capernaum. They all begin to talk at the same time, but your husband has the loudest voice and so the rest wait their turn:

“We went into the synagogue and Jesus began teaching from the scrolls….’

“None of us had heard anything like this teaching before. He has his own authority, “John interjected. The other three agreed. Your husband continues.

“We are sitting there looking at each other astonished by what he is saying. You see that crowd out there. There was a large crowd around the synagogue. The people were pressing in from all sides trying to hear him. Anyway, we are sitting there when all of a sudden this guy starts shrieking “What business have you got with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: you’re God’s Holy One!”

“He had an unclean spirit living in him,” James tells you. As he says this they hear another shriek outside. And another. Andrew got up to see what was happening. “Jesus is casting out those spirits right outside our door!” Your husband continues.

“You know what he said to that unclean spirit in the synagogue?” Wide-eyed, you ask, “What?”

“He says, ‘Be quiet! And come out of him! The man jerked and writhed like a snake and then screamed and then the unclean spirit came right out of him!”

“We were all shocked, “John continued. “Jesus not only speaks with authority, he even tells unclean spirits what to do, and they do it! The demons talk like they know who he is. He tells them to shut up.”

“We know who the unclean spirits are, where they come from,” Andrew added. “They are from Belial, the kingdom of Belial.”

Noticing two centurions keeping an eye on the crowd, your husband asks, “Do you think that the coming kingdom Jesus talks about will rid us of the tyranny of the Roman dogs?

James is quick to respond, “I hope so. Right now, he appears to be overthrowing the kingdom of Belial.”

“I’m good with that!” John chimes in. “Look around. Those spirits wreak havoc on everyone and everything. The Essenes at Qumran have been battling them for years.”

Nodding in the direction of the two centurions, James wondered out loud, “If Jesus has power over the kingdom of Belial, shouldn’t the Romans be shaking in their caligae?”

Your mother, upon hearing this, went out and offered the two centurions water from the clay jar, which they guardedly accepted. She then offered Jesus some and invited him in for a meal and a place to sleep for the night. He accepted.

Very early – the middle of the night, actually – Jesus got up and went out. You woke your husband and he roused Andrew and James and John. They went looking for Jesus. When they found him praying, they said, “Everyone is looking for you!”

“Let’s go off to the other towns around here,” Jesus replied, “so that I can tell the news to people there too. That’s why I came out.”

 

The next morning you hurry down to the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Men have been fishing long before daybreak. You carry with you a clay jar full of water and a cloth. You want to do what you can to prepare the way of the Lord.

 

 

 

Adapted from Mark Chapter 1

Deliver Us from Evil

Evil and its enforcer, power, has been around long before man employed both to consolidate empires. Cain killed Abel to gain power over the living reminder of his own disobedience. Joseph’s brothers sold Joseph into slavery to gain power over the living reminder of their supposed unfair treatment and over their father’s love and estate. Evil and its enforcer, power, have always worked together with ruthless abandon to take truth hostage.

 “Violence finds its only refuge in falsehood, falsehood its only support in violence.”

-Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

An astute student of world history would discern that seeking and holding absolute power is valued as far superior to seeking and holding absolute truth. Those who hold power believe they can generate a ‘regime of truth’ by virtue of their position: “truth is what I say it is.”. Anyone attuned to current world affairs can readily see that culture and politics, including our democratic Republic in the U.S., revolve around who holds what power and therefore controls what is and what has been. For, as Winston repeated over and over in George Orwell’s 1984, “who controls the past, controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” A student of Scripture will see that the regimes of power and truth, beastly kingdoms, are made subject to Absolute Power and Absolute Truth.

It has been said that the gospel crafted by Mark, an ace narrator, was written to a Roman audience. Certainly, there is a “just then” immediacy to his gospel. A sense of action is invoked which would peek a centurion’s ‘man of action’ curiosity. Of more importance to a Roman though, and to any earthly authority and to those under authority, is the theme of who holds power. On earth, regimes of power control regimes of truth. The spiritual world of unclean spirits requires a human habitation to control truth incarnate (Rom. 1:21). Mark’s gospel is the proclamation of a new regime of power and has nothing to do with a justice league of super-heroes with super powers.

In terms similar to announcing a new emperor who claimed to be a son of god, Mark begins his gospel by proclaiming Jesus’ title:

“This is where the good news starts – the good news of Jesus the Messiah, God’s son.”

With this proclamation a new regime is declared. The title acknowledges Jesus’ authority and connotes his power. The title announces what Israel had so hoped for — a Messiah, one who is anointed by God and therefore God’s representative. The Hebrew scriptures chronicled anointed kings, priests and prophets who represented God to Israel. The book of Daniel and writings between the Testaments, in particular the Messianic Apocalypse and the Son of God text from the Dead Sea Scrolls, record Jewish Messianic beliefs in ancient Judaism. In these texts, “Son of Man” is the title given to the one who will reign and hold dominion over all things and offer blessings to those under him.

The new regime, anticipated in Psalm 146 and the Messianic Apocalypse, comes with four blessings:

-The hungry are fed

-the prisoner is set free

-the blind receive their sight

– all things are put right.

Mark’s opening statement declares Jesus to be the anointed One of God. And, of vast more import to the Jews and to the regimes of power and truth, Jesus is declared to be not just another mere mortal claiming to be a son of god, but the One God’s own Son. Human and spirit and citizen and centurion encounter Jesus in Mark’s account. They soon come to this realization.

In the first paragraphs of Mark, Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist is recorded. Here is the anointing of Jesus by water, by the spirit and by The Voice from the realm of heaven: “You are my son! You are the one I love! You make me very glad!”

Next, Jesus is tested by the Satan. The temptation is for Jesus to accept the realm of power and authority that the Satan offers to him.

A few paragraphs later we read of Jesus and his new disciples going to Capernaum. There Jesus encounters a force from the realm of darkness, the same realm offered to him by the Satan:

They went to Capernaum. At once, on the sabbath, Jesus went into the synagogue and taught. They were astonished at his teaching. He wasn’t like the legal teachers; he said things on his own authority.

All at once, in the synagogue, there was a man with an unclean spirit.

“What business have you got with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” he yelled. “Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: you’re God’s Holy One!”

“Be quiet!” ordered Jesus “And come out of him!”

The unclean spirt convulsed the man, gave a great shout, and came out of him. Everyone was astonished.

“What’s this?” they started to say to each other. “New teaching – with real authority! He even tells unclean spirits what to do, and they do it!”

Mark’s gospel account goes on to detail events which show the authority and power of Jesus. Over and over we read of Jesus’ power over demons, the unclean spirits which roam the earth seeking whom they may inhabit. Realms of power are juxtaposed – heaven’s and the dark forces of the Satan which control men. They are shown in direct conflict. And note above: the unclean spirt knows who Jesus is and by whose authority he works before anyone else in the story. But why does Jesus stop the demon from declaring his identity? Mark’s beginning narrative imposes a tension that is resolved at the end of his gospel.

Before the end of the gospel we read of exorcisms. The realms of darkness are dealt with in these passages:

Mark 1:21-28 – shown above

Mark 5:1-20 – a wild untamed man with inhuman strength is possessed by an unclean spirit. He lives in a graveyard. We read that “No one had the strength to tame him”. This demon possessed man sees Jesus and throws himself in front of Jesus and shouts at the top of his voice…

“Why you and me, Jesus?”  “Why you and me, son of the High God?” By God stop torturing me!”  this last, because Jesus was saying to him “Unclean spirit, come out of him!”

Jesus cast The Legion of demons into a herd of pigs. The pigs then rush to the sea where they drowned. (The unclean spirits leave the dead pigs and go on searching for someone to inhabit.)

Mark 7:24-30 – a Greek woman throws herself at Jesus’ feet. She pleads with Jesus to cast an unclean spirit out of her daughter. After hearing the gentile woman’s “even the dogs under the table eat the crumbs that the children drop” Jesus affirms her words and sends her on her way. Her demon-possessed daughter back at home was rid of the unclean spirit.

Mark 9:14-29 – a father brings his demon possessed son to Jesus. The disciples could not cast out the demon. Jesus is notably angry at the unbelief in the power of God, especially when the father hedges, “…if you can do anything…” Jesus reprimands the father. “What do you mean, ‘If you can?” “Everything is possible to someone who believes.” The father shouts “I do believe! “Help me in my unbelief!” Jesus commands the unclean spirit to come out of the boy. The boy convulses and the unclean spirit comes out. The disciples go to question why they were ineffective. Jesus responds, “This sort can only be cast out by prayer.”

In Mark 3:15, 6:7 & 13 and 9:38-39 Jesus gives his followers the authority to cast out unclean spirits.

Mark is an excellent story-teller. As you read above, tension was imposed by Mark in the beginning paragraphs – the silence imposed on the unclean spirit who disclosed Jesus’ identity. This was done to pique the reader’s curiosity. Mark wanted the reader to discover for themselves who Jesus is. Like those involved with Jesus, the reader would question “Is Jesus really the Messiah?” and “Is Jesus really God’s son?” Each encounter and event would provoke questioning and amazement in the reader: “What’s this?”; “New teaching – with real authority! “He even tells unclean spirits what to do, and they do it!” And then the crucifixion appears to give the regime in power – the Romans- the final word about Jesus. But Mark gives us the final word through the mouth of a centurion:

When the centurion who was standing facing him saw that he died in this way, he said, “This fellow really was God’s son.”

The tension is resolved by an onlooker.

 

Lest anyone think that Jesus’ sole purpose on earth was to promote social justice and to have his words later passed on as “all you need is love” sixties-style bromides, Mark’s gospel declares to us that Jesus came to deal with evil and its enforcer, power, and with the agents of corruption possessing a will.

Mark declares that there is a new Lord in power, one with all authority in heaven and on earth. As shown by Mark, no power-enforced “regime of truth” on earth or under the earth can take Jesus’ truth hostage. Truth is what Jesus says it is and his truth can set a person free from power-and will-enforced bondage. No regime of power on earth or under the earth can keep his creation hostage. The world of men is to be set free and blessed by his reign. He chose his followers to make that happen.

Jesus has conferred his authority and power to his followers so that the blind will receive their sight and the hungry are fed and the prisoners are set free and unclean spirits are cast out. The world is to be put right under his Lordship.

To sum Mark’s gospel into today’s media parlance, Jesus slammed, crushed and owned the enemy of our souls. To sum Mark’s gospel in Scriptural phrasing…

The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our LORD and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever. -The Revelation of Jesus Christ 11:15