Mini Half-Sermon #40
These few verses in Mark have been written about and over analyzed so many times that for the young minister (or even the experienced one), it is difficult to bring anything new to table. When I read them just yesterday, I felt both a quiver of excitement and a sinking dread in my toes for that very reason.
However, I like a challenge, especially when it comes to the Gospels, and so we begin.
The Original Call
We set the scene: Jesus has been baptized by his cousin, John the Baptist. John has now been arrested. Jesus has gone off and recruited his disciples, Simon and Andrew (brothers), to his cause. They are fishermen. This is not an uncommon trade for those living in Galilee, which happens to be on the water.
Much has been made of them being fishers of fish, casting their nets in search of food, now doing so for the souls of men (and women).
Next Jesus comes across the brothers, James and John. At Jesus’s call, the brothers leave their father, they leave their family—all for the new family that Jesus is creating with his band of merry men, to borrow the happy turn of phrase from many centuries later.
In a short thousand words I may not be able to add much you haven’t already heard or haven’t already considered.
But I will ask you to consider: these men were fishermen. “Duh,” you might be thinking (or some variation thereof).
Fish were all they knew. They knew how to repair nets. They knew how to sit in a little boat upon the waves for days, just waiting to see what would swim into their traps. They were patient. This was a specific skillset that I, for one, certainly do not possess. I have the patience of a hare racing a tortoise. We know how that went.
When Jesus came to Simon and his brother Andrew and told them that “I will make you fish for people” (or, in the more traditional wording “fishers of men”), Jesus doesn’t mean these words in the literal sense. He’s not saying, “Hey, Simon, make an extra, strong net, because when Herod invites us to the palace, we’ll climb up the back stairs and then find a good vantage point to release your latest cross stitch.” Instead, Jesus is saying, “I’ll use your talents, and I’ll use them wisely in my ministry.” Jesus will use the fisherman’s patience, the ingenuity, the resilience in the three years in which he goes and preaches to the people of Israel.
If Jesus had met the Apostle Paul before the Road to Damascus, he certainly would have used Paul’s problem solving skills and his uncanny ability to scold fledgling Christians for getting it wrong while uplifting them in their faith simultaneously. Matthew the Tax Collector? Well, he had connections, and he was a tax collector so he had all that money he skived off the top. It was ill gotten gains, yes, but the money could be put to better use than burning a hole in Matthew’s pocket. Jesus was known for befriending widows—not just because they were friendless, but because they could provide shelter and funds for his ministry. I’m sure Jesus got on great with the town gossips not only because he found out what was going on, but they could give him great press after a miracle was concluded in the nearby village.
This, of course, may seem a little cynical, and perhaps it is.
But Jesus was working on a very limited timeline (most of the Gospels agree that his ministry lasted three years) and he was conducting a grassroots operation.
He was surviving by the grace of God and by word of mouth.
He had to use what opportunities came to him. If he did not seize the moment, his message—his all important message that God is Love—would not get out, and his birth as a human baby, his human life on this planet, and his eventual state execution would all be for nothing.
And then what would it all be for?
If the people he came to save—if the people he came to die for—had not repented of their sins—did not understand that God was love and that all they need do was love their God and love their neighbors and their enemies alike—then his little jaunt to earth would have been (as they say) an “epic fail”!
But it all started with the mismatched men he called as his original twelve disciples… he took their talents and redistributed them. He took their purpose for life and turned it to something greater. He took them away from the family they had been born into and created a Christian family that would stretch across the globe and stretch throughout time …
I doubt that Simon and Andrew or John and James understood what was going on when Jesus called out to them—but they answered the call nonetheless.
The Call Continues
Jesus, since the moment of your birth, has been calling out to you.
He hasn’t been a guy with a beard, wearing sandals, with a nice nametag to tell you exactly who he is. That would be too easy.
Instead, Jesus may be the words in this mini sermon. He may reveal himself in a Bible reading early one morning or late one evening. He may be the beating of a cardinal’s wings outside of your window. Jesus may be in the sunshine that gently rushes over the snow. He may be the laughter over the phone in your grandson’s voice.
Has he called you? Did you notice? And have you answered?
Think about it. He’s waiting, and he won’t abandon you. He never could, he gave up too much to ever let you go.
Mini Half-Sermon #41
There is so much to unpack in this short section from Mark, and (unfortunately) we only have a limited amount of space.
To begin, Jesus has authority. We can take that from several different vantages, but we’re going to take this from the point of view of the unclean spirit.
A Brief Note on Unclean Spirits
We’re going to take this at face value and just accept that the man is possessed by an unclean spirit. Or, in modern “horror” movie terms – he’s possessed, and it’s freaky, and we can expect demonic apparitions to happen.
But what is an unclean spirit? Well, it is anything from a person who has not been ritually cleaned (and, remember, there are 613 laws that can make the average person unclean in a “normal” un-demonic way). The usual reading however is, as stated above, one of demonic possession.
It is generally accepted that an unclean spirit is a demon of ancient origin. There are three possible explanations for such a demon (1) demons are as old as creation itself (one could mention the legend of Lilith) (2) they were the spirits of wicked men who had died and were still carrying on their wicked deeds from beyond the grave, or (3) they might have some connection to the Nephilim (Genesis 6:1-8).
In modern times it has been argued that a man possessed by an unclean spirit might have epilepsy or some mental disorder such as schizophrenia. (A discussion for another time.)
However, in the minds of the authors of Mark, the unclean spirit was just that—an unclean spirit—and so we will treat it as such.
First, we know that Jesus preaches with authority in the synagogue. Everyone recognizes it, and we must assume the unclean spirit recognizes this authority, as well, on textual matters of the Hebrew Bible.
Second, the unclean spirit calls Jesus by name. This is a further recognizing of that authority.
Thirdly, the Unclean Spirit calls Jesus, “The Holy One of God.” He is not recognizing him as a descendant of David (“Son of David” or even “Son of Man”) or as the “Son of God,” but he is recognizing him as Holy, as something diametrically opposite of himself. To the Unclean Spirit, they are relatively on the same level in the spiritual plane (though Jesus would be on the heavenly one, the Unclean Spirit would be on the Hellish or Demonic plane). They are equally holy (in the case of Jesus) and unclean (in the case of the spirit). The Unclean Spirit may have gotten it a bit wrong as to their level of equality, but this is undoubtedly a momentous moment.
Like is recognizing Like from across the battlefield.
It doesn’t stop here, however.
The demon has recognized Jesus, has named him even, and Jesus takes the power given him and he—the Word of God—speaks.
And what does he say?
He says—“Be silent!”
The Word takes away the speech of the Unclean Spirit.
Jesus is holy or hallowed or saintly … the spirit is unclean or blemished or tarnished.
Jesus speaks and Jesus is the Word …. the spirit has no words left and is silent.
The tableau continues as Jesus casts out the Unclean Spirit who, ironically, is less than silent (though with the cries of the insane, not the words of the rational), and the miracle is complete.
What we’re supposed to take from this is “the opposites” and “the contrasts.” The yin and the yang, as it were.
Jesus is good, the unclean spirit is bad.
Therefore, God is good, and Satan is bad.
God is good. Disorder before Creation (when the Unclean Spirit might have originated from) is bad.
Reason is good, passion and disorderly cries are bad.
Words and language are good, chaos and screaming are bad.
Love and simple laws are good when trying to follow 613 laws and becoming unclean can be bad.
The New Order that Jesus is ushering in is undoubtedly good—and the chaos and rules and superstitions from before are outdated and twisted and bad.
Jesus was always on the side of the angels, while the Unclean Spirit …. Well, if he’s descended from the Nephilim, they’re Fallen Angels (Genesis 6:1-8). If he’s a creature of Lilith, she’s the mother of demons and according to Legend, the first wife of Adam. She was a fallen woman before Eve became the Archetype of the Fallen Woman.
Needless to say, everyone in the synagogue was amazed, and word spread like wildfire. We don’t know what happened to the man who had the Unclean Spirit within him, but his life was surely improved once he was free from the spirit’s unclean influence.
He may have been a bit of a local celebrity or an oddity for a time, but the Gospel of Mark doesn’t tell us, unfortunately… it just continues on to the next episode of Jesus’s ministry.