4th Sunday of the year
Sunday 31st January 2021
He taught them with authority
Moses promised the people of his day that God would raise up a prophet (like himself) and people would listen to his voice.
Today let us hear again this voice and test it for ourselves.
The great spiritual writer C.S.Lewis said that the greatest victory the devil has won in our modern age is to persuade people not to believe in him.
Mark takes us to the Synagogue in Capernaum where Jesus was teaching – he was speaking with authority. Interesting word ‘authority’. It derives from the word ‘author’. Jesus by his words were linked to the author and creator of all things.
In doing so he is confronted by a man with an unclean spirit. This is the common role in the ancient world for the evil one, that is to oppose.
We need to talk about this – the word Satan only appears late in Jewish culture – not once in the Old Testament but perhaps in other forms or by other names. Nevertheless, it is the evil one who is front and centre. When things go pear shaped – like in the Garden of Eden or the wilderness or the demise of both the north and south kingdoms.
In his book “The Screwtape Letters” C.S. Lewis gives the boss devil the name ‘Screwtape” who gives written advice, all tongue in cheek to his apprentice wormwood. Mostly this advice is to trivialise the role of the devil – so that a deception is worked. We might say “the devil made me do it” – this is very Screwtape.
But in the New Testament we see Jesus confront evil. Sadly, I believe artists have taken this too far. So much so that, come the middle ages, people lived in fear of the devil and his so-called army. Our own Prayer Book (BCP) reflects this as do countless paintings and stained glass windows in Churches everywhere.
Typical of that were scenes depicting the contrast between life in heaven compared to life in Hades. A favourite of mine is by Hieronymus Bosch – “The Garden of Earthly Delights”. It is a triptych heaven on the left – hell on the right and in the middle the games people play that steer them toward one or the other.
Thankfully and hopefully we have grown up beyond such things and we can appreciate paintings like these and another by a favourite of mine, Bruegel, for their craftsmanship and we can also by them appreciate the mentality of religion of that era.
Modern psychology and science has taught us a great deal about the human mind – schizophrenia, bi-polarism, epilepsy, paranoia, obsessive-compulsive and other personality disorders etc. This fellow in Capernaum could have had any of these and modern medicine could have helped him enormously. But this was 2,000 years ago without such advancements, Jesus it seems brought healing by a voice command.
At the end of the day (even in 2021), listening to the powerful inner voices is vital to us also. This is true for creative people, for athletes and for world or community leaders. To do our best, to act for good, to initiate new ideas or to guide us along the right way needs this connection.
You no doubt know the story of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. The girl who was carried away by a cyclone to the magical land of Oz but wants to find her way home. On this journey, she finds others with some dilemma – a lion who needs courage, a scarecrow in search of a brain, and a tin man who lacks a heart.
The characters that Dorothy meets do find what they are looking for but when Dorothy finds the Wizard she is hugely disappointed. He is a trickster and a sham, he uses smoke and mirrors to make himself seem great. Dorothy then must look to her own resources to find her way home.
In today’s Gospel, the people in the synagogue are among the first to experience Jesus’ authority. He had just been baptized, tempted in the wilderness, chosen his first disciples – now Mark gives us an insight into a normal day in his life.
The voice that empowered him, protected him and that called the disciples – now opposes the forces of evil. This same voice will liberate people from sin, addiction and all that drags them into the depths – perhaps like those medieval painters thought so much about.
We too have this power as a church and as individuals – to confront evil in all its forms. Human beings are incredibly creative in piling up evils, and here C.S. Lewis is right in saying the devil is a trickster and his best deception is to persuade us to believe evil is a delusion just as in the Wizard of Oz.
But Dorothy found direction in life by turning inward – so too today we are bid to hear the voice of God within us. Not to rely on our own strength but on the one who empowers us at our baptism who commissions us and sends us out to tell the good news and with Jesus our master to bring wholeness and healing by reflecting the light and love of God in our daily lives.
The voice of the Church needs to be heard for with it comes the author of all things – the voice of God, bringing order out of chaos and light out of darkness and life and love in all fullness.
Archdeacon Ray McInnes