Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Like the first book of the Bible Genesis, the most ancient text of thegordon5 Gospel,
St Mark, upon which the other two gospel writers Matthew & Luke base their narrative, it begins with the word Άρχη. The beginning of the gospel Mark is Άρχη τού έυάνγγέλιου. After mentioning the work of John, the Baptist and his arrest, He introduces Jesus announcement concerning the fulfillment, the fulfilment of time, the basic structure of created nature. Time is fulfilled when Jesus comes into Galilee and says, ‘The time is fulfilled, repent and believe the gospel’. Then on the seventh day, again a reference to the creation narrative, for the seventh Day is the fulfillment of creation. On this day as God rests and rejoices in Creation’s goodness. But on this Seventh day, representing the goodness of creation, Jesus is confronted in the Synagogue at Capernaum with the fallen creation, it’s being subject to sin and death. He meets the demoniac. In the healing miracle that follows we see what the fulfilment of time means in Jesus.

In the creation narrative this fulfilment of the time is witnessed to by the seventh day of God’s creative action; this is the Sabbath rest of God’s peace and reconciliation with His creation. This promise of God’s rest and peace with His creation is the promise witnessed to by the seventh day. This is time’s purpose. It is the created form, ‘on the seventh day’, of the purpose of creation. The rest and rejoicing of God with His creation. This time according to Jesus is now fulfilled. It is no longer lost time, time without purpose tumbling down into an abyss of nothingness. The creations time is now no longer determined by its guilt and its being subject to death and decay as is all our time.

Jesus existence in time as the Son of God who shares to the full the creations alienation from the source of its true life in God, the crumbling away of our time into what Shakespeare calls “dusty death”. But in Jesus humanity God recapitulates, recreates  in Him the relationship creation had with its Creator at the beginning. His relationship with the Father for our sakes is the basis of times redemption and thus human redemption.

The ‘fulfilment of time’  witnessed to by the Sabbath, comes in Jesus, appropriately after his identification with Israel in the baptism of John. From John he receives a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. It is at this time that His unity with the Father and the Spirit is revealed. He is then driven into the wilderness to be tempted by the suggestion that there is some other way for Him to be the Son of God than the way of penitential obedience which ends in the cross. As the One who rejects this demonic temptation for our sake, Jesus comes into Galilee and proclaims that the time is fulfilled. Consequently, our time is not lost time but full of promise for it is the sphere in which God is present with and for us for our eternal salvation.

All this is a background to understanding the meaning of the text which relates to the healing of the demoniac on the Seventh Day, the Sabbath. Further, background to understand the miracle which is the subject of the gospel lesson for today; I want to talk for a few moments about cosmology. Cosmology you ask. ;what on earth has cosmology to do with the lesson from the holy gospel of St Mark chapter 1? We get the word cosmetics from this word and it means something with meaning and intelligibility as opposed to Chaos, which is unintelligible, chaotic. God’s creation is intelligible, understandable. Einstein, it was who said, “The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible”.

The world view of the writers of the New Testament, their cosmology, is that of the Old Testament. Accordingly, they believed lived in a three-storied universe. Heaven, earth and hell under the earth. The space in between was inhabited by all sorts of spiritual beings, malevolent. In the creation accounts of the Book of Genesis God brings forth the dry land from a chaos which was composed of water. The dry land was established and safeguarded from the encroachment of the watery chaos by God’s promise and covenant witnessed in the story of Noah. So, water was an ever-present sign in creation of the threat of Chaos from which it was protected by God’s providential rule.

One of the more remarkable features of the accounts of the miracles associated with Jesus ministry arises from the fact that those who are the subject of his action are in need. They are sufferers. Jesus does not ask concerning their past or their present sin. He acts, and his action creates for them a new future. The help and the blessing that He brings are quite irrespective of their attitude to him. Jesus miracles are thus to be seen to encapsulate the fact that God in Christ acts toward us in our need by God’s free grace God moves towards the threatened and rebellious creature in the freedom of God’s grace.

What Jesus miracles reveal is that God has chosen to be God in such a way that He makes Himself responsible for the creature not simply in its need as a created, mortal and frail, but in its need as subject to the thraldom of sin and death. This is the God with whom we have to do in the miracles of Jesus, and it is this element that constitutes their strangeness; against which any questions we may have as to the nature of miracle as such pales into insignificance. That God is such a God never entered into the heart and mind of humankind. The true miracle of miracles is their testimony to this unheard-of reality

One of the difficulties in understanding the miracle is that so often it is transposed into a story about the general beneficence or goodness of God, an abstract notion whose content remains in the sphere of generalities, as so much of Jesus teaching when its meaning is divorced from His person.

I would suggest that we think of the miracles that Jesus performs as insights into His own self-interpretation of the way that he goes from Bethlehem to Golgotha. That is to cease separating the miracles from Him who speaks and acts in them: turning them into abstract moral ideas about God.

What Jesus saw and experienced of the human condition as He fulfils the purpose of His coming amongst us as God’s Son who assumed our flesh was an abyss of darkness that is not merely supposed, invented, or imagined. He saw and experienced the human condition as it really is; and as we have seen and experienced it in the space of our lifetimes. We have come to know our humanity and its capabilities through world wars, revolution, famine, genocide and terrorism. World War 1, the war to end all wars and make the world safe for democracy, then the Nazi terror and push for world domination, their genocide of the Jewish people in Europe, and before that as  a consequence of the first word war the Turkish genocide of Armenian Christians, Stalin’s mass murder by starvation of Ukrainian peasants and the wicked brutality of the deportations  of ethnic minorities and other undesirables to the death camps; the gulag archipelago, Mao Tse Tung and the millions he starved and killed in his so called great leap forward, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Osama Bin Laden Saddam Hussein, Kim Il Sung, so we could go on. We have come to know our humanity and its propensity for evil.

 Jesus saw and experienced the human condition as claimed and imprisoned by the actuality of visible and invisible powers of darkness and death. He understood human beings to be possessed by the negative power of evil, delivered up to it and corrupted by it.

In this miracle it is not the sufferer in his need who speaks. But on the tongue and lips of the sufferer that which imprisons and torments him, the demons. Sickness does not speak. Death does not speak. But the demons speak, the indefinable concretions of chaos: the true enemies of God speak and cry out. They do not do so on behalf of or in the name of the sufferer; they are the sufferer’s tormentor. They are the sufferer’s enemy not his friend. They speak out on their own behalf; in the form of cries and shouts of blasphemies because they see and know themselves threatened by the presence of Jesus. The inspirer of fear and torment is now itself afraid and tormented. What is shown in the presence of Jesus is that the trans-personal concretion of evil and chaos has nothing to say in its own cause; it can only seek to flee from the presence of God in Jesus.

Jesus ranges himself alongside the demoniac who in his torment epitomises the concretion of evil and chaos which are the true enemies of God, because they hold the human creature in subjection. Here, in Him, the life of the threatened and enslaved creature becomes the personal cause of God Himself. By means of His identification with the creature’s need and torment Jesus’ action brings forth a new human being. Not simply in the healed demoniac, he is but a sign of the healing of our humanity that Jesus has taken to Himself.

It in this new humanity of His that we are given to participate in God’s own eternal life. The miracle of the healing of the demoniac in the synagogue on the seventh day, is a sign of this new human being, our humanity present in the world in Jesus Christ. In Him humanity is endowed with a new being whose future is determined by the action of God Himself.

In this and similar miracles of Jesus God himself defies the power of destruction that enslaves human beings. God’s power revealed in Jesus is not a neutral force; it is the omnipotence of His mercy. Not quiet and passive mercy but active, vibrant and hostile to that which enslaves the creature. It is with this that we have to do in Jesus. What is new, incomprehensible and miraculous is that God is a God who victoriously combats evil in its banal negativity for our sake. In worship today, it is the same One who meets us here; we who are immersed in and struggle daily with the causes and effects of evil, He meets us with His same healing and saving power. He meets us in His Word and in His holy sacrament.

Dr. Gordon Watson.

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