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Before we go ahead with our Lectiones, we must underline a fact that, important as it is, may go unnoticed in our reading of Mark’s Gospel. There are only three Sundays left before we start the liturgical time of Lent. In Lent, only two of the Sundays will have a fragment from Mark. We will not resume reading Mark until June 7, and even in that period extending until Advent, on another five Sundays we will read from John’s Gospel account. As you can see, Mark’s Gospel is not only the shortest, but it also suffers from a meagre use in our liturgy. Maybe you will understand now why I advised you to read it entirely at the beginning of this cycle to get a general introduction to the whole year. These three Sundays left provide us with a clear, even if brief, vision of two of the dimensions in which Mark exposes Jesus’ authority at the very onset of his Gospel. Section 1:21-28, read today, together with the rest of chapter 1, (which we will read on the following two Sundays), describes Jesus’ authority over demons and illness. Immediately following this, the section comprising 2:1 through 3:6, which is read on Sundays 7 to 9, will show his authority over sin and the Law. Unfortunately, this year we will miss those passages. Having all these not so small details in mind, let us start our Lectio.
First, the setting is sacred, holy, and in a double dimension. As to the time, it is a Sabbath day, the “holy day” par excellence in the Jewish religious mentality. We should recall all the disputes between Jesus, the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees, concerning his violation of the “sabbatical rest” whenever he cured the sick on a Sabbath. As to the space, even if we are not in the Temple in Jerusalem, the synagogue had the character of a “sacred space,” for it was there that the Torah was read and exposed by the rabbis. It was there, too, that solemn prayers were recited every day. There is a third “holy” reality: Jesus himself, “the Holy One of God” (1:24). We do not know what Jesus taught that day, as Mark does not provide us with the slightest hint about that. The only thing he underlines is the difference “in style” between Jesus’ way of teaching and that of the teachers of the Law: he taught “as one having authority.” Nothing else. At the end of the whole passage, Mark will add another detail to explain why the people were “astonished” and “amazed.” Jesus’ teaching with authority “was new” (1:27).
Second, in that sacred space and time, the most unholy reality turns up in the form of “a man with an unclean spirit” (1:23). This is the opportunity for Jesus to show that there is still another difference between him and the official leaders of the community. The demon (it happens to be a “plural” spirit, by the way), recognizes who and what Jesus is, declares openly they have nothing in common, and asks if Jesus has the intention of destroying him/them. (Thus, Mark refutes the accusation they will bring against Jesus some time later: 3:20-29). Again, Jesus shows his authority in a double dimension: he silences the spirit and makes him leave the possessed man. The reality of that evil possession and its healing is attested to in the cry uttered by the spirit and the convulsion that seizes the man. But the most important thing, perhaps the “new” factor the crowd perceives, is the deep difference from a “traditional” prophet. Jesus does not speak or give orders “in the name of Yahweh” (see today’s reading from Deuteronomy), but “rebukes” the evil spirit directly, “in his own name,” so to speak. We are, in fact, in the presence of “the Holy One of God.”
The double question posed by the evil spirit is an open recognition that there is nothing in common between Jesus and him/them, and manifests their fear about their own destruction because the Kingdom of God has appeared. The kingdom of darkness and slavery has nothing to do with Jesus’ mission as the Messiah sent to set free those who live under the burden of evil. The way in which he begins his ministry is, at the same time, an announcement of the commission he will entrust to the Twelve and, in a broader sense, to all the disciples, to whom he “gave authority over unclean spirits” (6:7). We should also ask ourselves what we have in common with the dominion of “evil” when we find ourselves sharing the values and standards of this world instead of those of the Kingdom. We need to ask ourselves in what ways we are engaged in fighting the realm of evil in every dimension of life. To what extent do we announce (and live) the “newness” of the Gospel, or how deeply has the condition of a musty, old routine settled into our Christian lives? Is our presence in the small society where we live a source of freedom and deliverance for those enslaved by evil?
Pray for those oppressed by “evil spirits,” suffering from any kind of slavery (addictions, greed, selfishness, despair): that Jesus’ saving word may come to them and deliver them so that they may enjoy the freedom of the children of God.
Pray for Christians in general and for ministers in particular: that we may live the saving news of the Gospel, become its messengers and announce with the “authority” of coherence Jesus’ healing words.
Mark relates Jesus’ preaching in the synagogue of Nazareth, his hometown, and how he was rejected by his own people (6:1-6), but he does not mention the content of Jesus’ preaching. Read again the parallel text in Luke 4:16-30, and try to understand, accept and see how you can transmit Jesus’ message of hope to those subjected to any kind of slavery or oppression.
Reflections written by Rev. Fr. Mariano Perrón,
Roman Catholic priest, Archdiocese of Madrid, Spain