Deliver Us From Evil
Jan 31, 2021
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Mark 1:21-28
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
A couple of weeks ago, I commented in a sermon that there was something about Jesus that drew people. In today’s Gospel reading, that phenomenon is presented again. The scene is a synagogue in Capernaum, a city on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. It is the sabbath, and the people of Capernaum are gathering, as usual, for the prayers, the reading of the Torah, and the faithful – but not earth-shattering – interpretation of it by the rabbi. It was, I suppose, rather routine, predictable, a bit boring – perhaps you know what I mean?
But then a newcomer enters the synagogue and takes over. (Pause for a moment to imagine that; what if someone none of us knew walked in, nodded at me, and began confidently speaking?) That day in Capernaum, this stranger was, we are told, astounding – he, Jesus, had AUTHORITY.
There are various ways to understand what is meant by the statement: “…for he taught as one having authority, not as the scribes.” One commentator writes that the Greek word we translate “authority” means the “sovereign freedom” of one who acts without hindrance. The scribes’ teaching authority depends on their knowledge and adherence to tradition, but Jesus teaches with independent authority, or rather the authority of God. (1)
Another commentator defines Jesus’ authority as moral gravity; he had a weightiness and substance that people found difficult to explain. (2) A third person reflected on positional versus relational authority, the former being authority only because of a position someone holds and may or may not come with respect. The latter is exhibited by a leader who wins respect due to his or her transparency, humility, vision, and lifestyle. Jesus had relational authority. (3)
I am not sure that any one of these descriptions tells the whole story of Jesus’ authority. What I notice is that whatever is so astounding about Jesus causes an unclean spirit to acknowledge him as the “Holy One of God” and fear him.
Remember, this is at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry before he is known as a healer and miracle worker. Can you imagine the scene? People were entranced by Jesus, focused on him, noticing that he is different than other teachers they have met. Then there is a disruption, a shout, a deranged person whose voice sounds unreal. “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.”
Perhaps there was complete silence for a moment, but I imagine that then the murmuring began, “What happened? Who spoke? What did he say? How does he know his name is Jesus? He is from Nazareth? What good could come from Nazareth?”
Then, with authority, Jesus silences the room, and the unclean spirit as well. “Be silent and come out of him!” The description of what happens next is a bit disconcerting: the man was overwhelmed by convulsions, there was the ear-piercing cry, and the unclean spirit was no more.
That certainly was a confirmation of Jesus’ authority, which was none other than God’s will and God’s truth. I like what Bishop Brian Mass writes in Christian Century: “Each time I hear this section of the Gospel, I envision a Jesus whose words carry the vitality and authenticity of direct connection to the source: one who does not just dispense content, but tells the story he has lived, who speaks not of what he has heard but of what he knows.” (4)
Of course, we 21st-century readers cannot help but wonder what really happened that sabbath in Capernaum since we struggle to believe in “unclean spirits,” although we can acknowledge that mental illness often does take on a life of its own. It is important for us to remember that the Bible is not a book of facts, like a textbook, but rather a book of truth and of message.
So, what is the message for today? It is this: God’s reign and rule are breaking into this world and is present in Jesus. That is the ultimate in authority!
A week ago yesterday, the Confirmation Class met for a learning morning on ZOOM. The topic was the Lord’s Prayer. We began by comparing the Biblical version of the Lord’s Prayer found in Matthew 6 with the two versions in the ELW hymnal. The youth noticed that one of them – the one with the less formal language – is closer to what Matthew records Jesus said than the other.
When we began looking at each petition, one of the students pointed out something interesting. For the seventh petition, our hymnal and the Small Catechism say, “Deliver us from evil,” while the Bible says, “rescue us from the evil one.” What, I was asked, does that mean?
So, we had a brief discussion about personified evil – referred to in the New Testament as an unclean spirit, Satan, demons; that was a common way to explain the presence of evil in the first-century. While there are people today who believe that personified evil exists, I told the youth, it is more common to think of evil as power, a choice, even a way of thinking that has a negative impact on the world.
In his explanation of the seventh petition, Martin Luther says we say, deliver us from evil,” we are praying to be delivered from all kinds of evil in this life – including that which affects body or soul, property or reputation, and to experience the ultimate deliverance, by God’s grace, into eternity. Today’s text conveys the message that that is possible.
Commentator Paul S. Berge touches on this topic, using first-century imagery. “In this world of demonic powers that continue to enslave us, Jesus has broken its hold. The hold of the evil one has no power over us. We too have been rescued from the evil one and restored in our right minds through the Lordship of the crucified and risen Christ.” (5)
“The hold of evil has no power over us.” All too often we forget that and give up, thinking that evil, negativity, hate will win. It may seem that way in particular moments, but that is not the end of the story.
At the beginning of his earthly ministry, Jesus makes it clear that he has the authority to silence and to defeat the power of evil in our lives and in our world. That is the epiphany he offered in the synagogue that day and that he continued to affirm throughout his ministry, right up to the ultimate defeat of sin and evil when he was raised from the dead.
It is no wonder, then, that the worshippers in Capernaum and the worshippers in Fairlawn, Copley, Wadsworth, Medina, Akron – and beyond – are drawn to him. AMEN
(1) “Commentary on Mark 1:21-28: Fourth Sunday after Epiphany” by Stephen Hultgren, www.workingpreacher.com
(2) “The Lectionary Gospel, Epiphany 4B, Mark 1:21-28” by Scott Hoezee, January 25, 2021
(3) “Jesus Christ, a Healer with Authority: Mark 1:21-28” by the Rev. Dr. Steve Griffiths, www.standrewsenfield.com
(4) “Reflection on the Lectionary” by Brian Maas, Christian Century, January 13, 2021, pg. 21
(5) “Commentary on Mark 1:21-28: Fourth Sunday after Epiphany” by Paul S. Berge, www.workingpreacher.com