Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer, Amen.
Mark’s Gospel does something interesting. The word “immediately” occurs more times in this Gospel than in any of the others, resulting in a very fast-paced story you can read almost like a short novel. You may have noticed I included last Sunday’s scripture lesson and this Sunday’s scripture lesson together in today’s Gospel reading so you can get a sense of the immediacy of Mark’s storytelling. I would encourage you to take one and a half hours and read straight through the entire gospel. If you need a chance to plan when that takes place, you may even consider skipping church one Sunday to do it; however – if you choose that option, please expect a quiz the following week!
Something interesting takes place here and elsewhere in this fast-paced Gospel – it moves so fast there often times seems to be a gap in the narrative. A good example of that happens right in between last Sunday’s lectionary passage and this Sunday’s. Let me read that section to you again.
As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him. They went to Cappernaum; 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.
Isn’t that interesting? Mark does not specifically say that the four fishermen accompanied him into the synagogue on the Sabbath, nor whether in v.22 “they were astounded” refers to all the gathering or just the four fishermen.
I think it is a pretty safe guess to include both the four fishermen in the assembly or gathering, which is what the Greek word synagogue here means, but also that the entire gathering was astounded with his teaching, not just the “four first fishing followers.”
Have you ever been in a similar position? I can think of very few experiences when I have been to a lecture or class…or worship service…and been held completely captivated where the speaker knew the material so thoroughly inside and out that there was no question he or she was a master at that topic. That kind of master can stand up at a podium with no notes and just begin.
In recent memory, that happened two years ago for me with author Phyllis Tickle. She is a champion of the hypothesis that every 500 years something in the Church shifts radically and a new kind of community of belief arises. At 80-some years of age she masterfully wove all the themes and topics together presenting the 500 year cycle of the development of Judeo-Christianity, and began to speculate about what this new 500 year cycle that we are at the cusp of entering will bring – all with a podium empty of notes. I was completely captivated by her presentation and the discussions that followed. Is that even close to what it was like for the fishermen and those in the synagogue that first Sabbath Jesus began teaching? I can only imagine what that must have been like…
Picture this: it is Sabbath evening and the people gather like they always do, weary tradespeople – both men and women – after their day of labor trudging into the gathering place to sit, meet, exchange the news of the day, then begin to find calm, centering themselves for meditation on the Almighty.
Perhaps it begins slowly with just one person singing a Psalm softly as they gather. Soon it gathers other voices and swells into a song of praise or supplication to God. Then perhaps the Schema is recited, that age-old prayer and chant that defines the very core of the Jewish being as they touch base with their ancient faith tradition. Followed perhaps by an elderly wise one of the community – or a visiting Rabbi on circuit might happen to be there that night to offer a reading and a reflection before opening the floor to discussion. Lively question and answer dialog begins and then another spiritual song. Perhaps the end of the day meal is shared in the context of this time, with ever-changing, ever-flowing movement from table to seat and seat to table, all in measured step as the Psalm or prayers go on.
Then a new figure rises from his seat reclining among some fishermen and steps to the center of the gathering and sits down. Somehow light plays about his face and he begins to speak. Not reading from the scroll, but reciting it letter perfect and interpreting it deeply with every phrase he utters. Like a ripple that slowly spreads outward from an epicenter, those gathered are drawn in irresistibly as his voice goes on. A voice that doesn’t just recite old or empty words but a voice that echoes deeply in the vaults of our inner-most beings. A voice connecting in some way with our very souls, as if at some primal level our spirit recognizes the very One who made us. In that moment we are formed and reformed yet anew, as our wounds and hurts from the world melt away under the fire those words kindle within us.
But our deeply buried spirits are not the only ones who somehow recognize the One who speaks. Oh, no, someone or something else recognizes him as well. The shadowed one in the corner – that one we used to know so well who turned strange to us – that one we try to ignore and the one by all the laws of purity we cannot touch but we must care for. That one – the one who no longer speaks but trembles in silence – he now arises and moves in jerky steps to approach this new traveling Rabbi, he now speaks in words so terrible and coarse that we cringe and draw away.
“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.”
Somehow that light, playing about the Rabbi’s face, it seems to flicker brighter and grow more intense, and the words come like the peal of sliver bells so pure and strong they shatter the very shadows of darkness with their command: “Be silent and come out of him!” He is jerked to a stop, he collapses on the floor in convulsions, he shrieks – then all is silent and he lays like a man dead. But no – wait – he rises up; he looks around for the first time in a long time with rational eyes at all of us who have kept so distant for so long. As he slowly turns his eyes alight upon Jesus who released him, and immediately a light comes on inside him, he smiles in pure joy, he weeps for joy, and Jesus comes.
A teaching with authority! O Lord, come thou even unto this place, that we might hear thy voice, know thy word, and do thy will. Amen? May it be so.