Wednesday, August 04, 2021

Come and go


Enter-into. Go out from.

There’s some beautiful mirroring going on in the Gospel reading set for Morning Prayer today, Mark 1:21-28.

Jesus and his freshly-minted disciples enter into Capernaum, with an immediate effect: on the sabbaths (plural, lost in translation) Jesus quickly establishes a pattern of entering into the synagogue, where he teaches with a remarkable authority, speaking with his own voice. This is contrasted with the scribes, who teach in the voice of their own rabbi (as the disciples will, in due course, speak in Jesus’ voice, as scribes of the kingdom of heaven).

Jesus is mirrored by the man with an unclean or impure spirit (the word for spirit also conveys breath or wind, and while a distinct ‘personality’ is clearly intended, the play of halitosis or toxic farts is not entirely inappropriate). Though not explicitly stated, it is implied that this spirit has entered the life of this man, as Jesus has entered the town and its synagogue. There is an ambiguity as to whether it is the man or the unclean spirit who speaks, whether it is the man or the unclean spirit Jesus addresses, and this is in keeping with the ambiguity of the scribes’ teaching voice, and in contrast to Jesus’ authoritative voice.

Jesus addresses the man/spirit. And while this is rightly translated as a rebuke, a corrective warning, it has been suggested that the same word can carry, without negative connotation, an honouring. So, we might see here not ambiguity but a word that differentiates between the man and the spirit, between whom others (perhaps including the man himself) cannot differentiate: honouring the man, warning the unclean spirit.

(Even more, the honouring may carry within it a warning, and the rebuke an honouring. Contrary to the expectation of the unclean spirit—of the thief who comes to kill, steal, and destroy—Jesus comes to bring life…even to unclean spirits?)

Jesus honours/rebukes, and the unclean spirit goes out from the man. And the mirror of this is that the news about Jesus goes out from the synagogue, from Capernaum, into the surrounding region of Galilee. (And in the very next verse, just to underline the mirror pattern—for Mark does not cut up his story the way the Lectionary does—Jesus and his disciples go out from the synagogue.)

Jesus is the one with authority to enter and go out from, and to direct others to do likewise. Both actions, both directions, entering and going out from, bring life in greater fulness than previously experienced.

Where do you see this Jesus-directed entering into and going out from in your life, and the life of your community, today?


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