The Gospel text for this coming Sunday (Mark 1:21-28) has Jesus coming IMMEDIATELY into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and there IMMEDIATELY was a man with an unclean spirit. There is even the same word (although it is translated ‘at once’), after the miracle, that Jesus’ fame spreads EVERYWHERE THROUGHOUT ALL the surrounding region—and here we have another literary exaggeration. But there is no ‘immediately’ mentioned when Jesus heals. That is an extremely painful omission.
That reminds me of the first miracle after Jesus’ transfiguration; this is another delayed healing. This healing in chapter one is the first miracle recorded after Jesus’ baptism—unless if you consider his ability to get four fishermen to follow him to be a miracle! (This was an important aspect to be included so that at least two or three witnesses could attest to these events.)
The following are two painful realities regarding the exorcisms in the Gospel according to Mark: The man with the unclean spirit does not get healed right away, and the boy with the unclean spirit is rolling around on the ground (it happened IMMEDIATELY after the spirit saw Jesus), in desperate need of help, and Jesus asks the father, ‘How long has this been happening?’ The father ends up getting a bit impatient, and so do we. (He even IMMEDIATELY cried out, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief’, and, sometimes, so do we.)
At the baptism of Jesus, the way the text came across, Jesus was the only one who saw heaven opened and who heard the words, ‘You are my beloved Son….’ Now comes the good Lutheran question, ‘What does this mean?’ Some people would probably like an IMMEDIATE answer to that question. The demons and the devils certainly did.
It is a fascinating statement of the unclean spirit in chapter one. Literally, he asks, ‘what is it between us and you?’ (Jesus asked the same question of Mary right before he turned water into wine in John 2—his first miracle according to that account.). In other words, what is our relationship? How are we related? Then he says, ‘I know who you are—the Holy One of God.’ Jesus is holy; the demon is not.
Jesus is holy; the synagogue was not. Jesus is holy, and, when we consider our sin, we are not.
It is interesting that Jesus tells him to be quiet. Later Mark says that Jesus would not let the unclean spirits talk when he cast them out. If Jesus would have let them talk, they could have added to his numbers IMMEDIATELY.
I am sure that the early Christians who were getting killed because they were followers of Jesus wanted something good to happen IMMEDIATELY. We are sometimes no different.
The demons were speaking the truth. They knew who he was. They knew he was holy. But that is not good news. Jesus came to proclaim the kingdom of God and the gospel of God. Those things belong to God, and through that gospel, God tells us that we IMMEDIATELY belong to him. Now THAT is good news.
The Gospel text for this Sunday starts us on a relatively slow, deliberate journey with the Gospel according Mark. But a slow journey is hardly possible with this gospel account. The writer’s pace is unbelievable at times, especially when you take into account all the times the word ‘immediately’ appears.
I call it a slow journey because we will stay in this account until the third Sunday in Lent. And the Gospel texts for the next few weeks are as follows: 1:14-20, 1:21-28, and 1:29-39; and, if Easter were later (it happens to be April Fool’s Day this year!), there could be up to three weeks of texts which immediately follow after those.
During Epiphany we do not want to get too far into the Gospel according to Mark since, at the very beginning of chapter 3, Jesus’ enemies are already planning to destroy him. In a way, Lent is right around the corner.
Epiphany gives us a little time to enjoy a revelation or two about Jesus. How Jesus reveals himself in this account is certainly unique, and you do not have to go too far into the text to see that.
Mark 1:14-15 go this way (according to the ESV): “After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” It is extremely interesting—and I checked this to be sure—that this is, according to some manuscripts, the first mention of 'God' in the text. And he is certainly mentioned more than once!
Some manuscripts do not have Jesus called ‘Son of God’ at the end of first sentence of this account, and even if it is NOT there, that he is eventually called that in the text is an amazing thing. And even if it IS there, the frequent mention (and allusion) to God in this text is noticeable.
In verses 14 and 15 there is the phrase ‘the gospel of God’; Jesus talks about ‘the kingdom of God’, and when he says that ‘the time is fulfilled’, the implication is that this special time is determined by God (cf. BDAG, p. 498). The emphasis on God is undeniable. And it all started after the mention of an arrest (literally, a ‘giving over’ or, perhaps, a ‘passing on’).
The emphasis continues to be one of power. People are used to talking about power. People like to have power. In the same way (as it has always been), people like to be like God—someone with power.
This God of the text has a gospel. This God has a timeline. And this God has a kingdom. Perhaps you can imagine God sitting on his throne in heaven. He decides (given his timeline) to send a messenger to give some important news (and this is the definition of ‘gospel’ in the Old Testament).
God has always had a kingdom. God has always had some good news. That he decides to share it with us is incredible. The WAY in which he did it is BEYOND incredible. That he decided to share it with the harassed, belittled, outnumbered Christians in Rome is also incredible. And sometimes we can feel the same way as they did. That those early Christians were able to pass it along is even more incredible.
As Mark 1:1 reminds us, this is only the beginning of the good news.
The Gospel according to John is an amazing text for many reasons.
At the moment, what is most fascinating for me is that several people are examining this account as a literary work; whereas, with the other accounts, the focus is mostly the historical setting.
I am not saying that all of the accounts should not be seen as historical. But whether you are trying to find the theology, the history, or the literary devices within a certain work, the fact is that all of these accounts are already literary works, and both the theology and the history we are getting are coming out of these literary works. And a good, basic, beginning step is to see how these literary works are structured in a literary way.
Hopefully, eventually, we will see a literary emphasis with all the gospel accounts and especially how they work together. For the time being, we can enjoy the literary treasures that others have found within the Gospel according to John.
Currently, the writings that I am interested in are the ones of Francis J. Moloney. A recent book came out of his collected works on the Gospel according to John: Johannine Studies: 1975-2017. This is one of those books that is not for everyone, but it IS in English, and it CAN be helpful to understand a text within this gospel account.
I enjoyed the context which he gave for the Gospel text for this coming Sunday (John 1:43-51). There is a time reference at the very beginning of this text that is almost always overlooked.
In the previous two sections, they both start out the same way as this text: ‘The next day…(John 1:29, 35, 43).’ The text following this starts out differently: ‘On the third day… (2:1).’ Moloney compares this structure to that of the Exodus and the children of Israel, right before they received the Law at Mt. Sinai. There is the phrase, ‘The next day….’ at Exodus 18:13, for example, and there is also the phrase, ‘On the morning of the third day….’ at Exodus 19:16. And then the Ten Commandments are given in Exodus 20.
In this way, I think the writer tries to emphasize what he was talking about in his introduction, that while ‘the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17).’
After the first ‘sign’ or miracle, when Jesus turned water into wine, the text says that he manifested his glory. This fits with the tabernacle that was built and went along with the children of Israel. The glory of God was connected to that tabernacle—and Mt. Sinai. (See Exodus 19:16; the word for ‘thick’, describing the cloud, could also mean ‘heavy’, and that is the same word as ‘glory’.) And now there is a glory that is connected to Jesus.
You could even see the whole of this account as a liturgical year—with the entire liturgy focusing on Jesus, but we can save that connection for another time.
It has bothered me for a while that, within the Gospel according to Mark, the writer states that '... all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and we being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins (Mark 1:5).' I am particularly focusing on the use of the word 'all' within the text. I cannot imagine the city of Jerusalem being totally vacant, as well as the area of Judea. Obviously they did not all come out at the same time. But was it really even all?
To be honest, I did not like his exaggeration. (In literary terms, this is called a hyperbole.) If he exaggerates with this, with what else is he going to exaggerate?
That turned out to be a very good question. How else does the writer use the word 'all' within the text?
This verse has the very first uses of the word 'all' within this gospel account. They point to the great successes of John the Baptist. He simply shows up. There is no account of his birth. There is an Old Testament verse, and then he appears. He comes on the scene in a big way, and this is shown in the responses of the people. ALL of them went out.
The entrance of Jesus is different ... and yet the same. He shows up to get baptized. Again, as with John, there is no account of his birth. The results of his baptism are HUGE. How many times have the heavens ripped open like they were at his baptism? The focus of the text quickly and appropriately shifts to Jesus.
Things with Jesus begin to build quite quickly. In verse 32 ALL who were sick were brought to him. (It's interesting that, following this, the text says that MANY were healed--and not all.) But the next time the word 'all' is used is when Jesus went away to pray the next morning, and Peter says to him, 'Everyone is looking for you (v. 37).' In other words, ALL are looking for you. That is the next use of the word.
It seems that Jesus does not like that exaggeration. The implication of Peter seems to be that, if everyone is looking for Jesus, he should go to them. But Jesus does not do what they want. He does what HE wants. And he wants to go to the next towns. He says that is why he 'came out'.
He ends up preaching around in Galilee and getting the attention of the religious leaders in Jerusalem. Then he ends up going there and getting killed.
I actually like that exaggeration that all are looking for Jesus. I like that exaggeration, especially in light of the way that this gospel account ends. In Mark 16:8, it says that the women fled from the tomb, 'for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.'
Now THAT is an exaggeration that I have NEVER really liked. And, again, I think I can see a literary purpose within it, especially in light of the situation of the earliest Christians. They were getting killed for the faith. Peter and Paul were both killed at about the same time, and I could imagine this 'double-whammy' being a very difficult thing for those early Christians to handle. 'What is our future?' they were asking.
It is comforting to know that the word 'astonishment' in the reaction of the women is also found in the reaction of the people who saw Jesus resurrect a child in Mark 5:42. (These are the only two occurrences in Mark; literally the word is 'ecstasy'.) The dictionary (BDAG), interestingly enough, defines this as 'a state of consternation or profound emotional experience to the point of being beside oneself.' Now THAT is a long definition. But it also takes a while to get your mind around the death and resurrection of Jesus--as well as our own death and resurrection.
You exaggerate when it is a life and death issue. PLEASE exaggerate when it is a life and death issue. BY ALL MEANS exaggerate when it is an ETERNAL life and death issue.