4th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Ages 9-12): Shown, Not Told
(Begin by reading the Gospel. Sometimes it is good to have someone read it to you. It is good to hear the Word of God.)
Last week, we thought about the Kingdom of God happening in this very moment, and how each of us is called upon right now to participate. And yet, in the Gospel for this Sunday, we might wonder if this is really true. It may seem like Jesus does not want everyone to know about the Kingdom or about who he is.
They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.
Capernaum is a town in Galilee. St. Mark shows us that the life of Jesus and his disciples includes time at the synagogue on the Sabbath day. It is important to St. Mark that we know that Jesus is a faithful Jew. Jesus 'keeps the Sabbath'; that means he follows the law regarding the holy day for the Jewish people. He keeps time sacred for God.
Did you notice that St. Mark does not seem to be all that concerned with what Jesus is actually saying when he teaches? We are only shown how he teaches--with authority. Why would St. Mark show us that Jesus has the power to teach, without telling us what he says?
Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “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.”
This must be an extremely disturbing moment for everyone involved. The man is obviously disturbed. I imagine all the people in the synagogue are feeling uncomfortable. (If this happened at church, I would be trying to slide under the pew.) The people might be hoping that someone will take charge and make the man leave.
But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!”
Jesus does not avoid the conflict. He speaks directly to the unclean spirit within the man. Notice, he says two things: a) be silent; b) come out.
And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.
The unclean spirit comes out, but it is hardly silent.
They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”
Here the people comment on his authority again. When commanded, the unclean spirit comes out of the man, making him whole again. The fact that Jesus says, "be silent," and yet the unclean spirit is quite noisy, does not bother the people; it does not seem to be a contradiction. The people have heard and seen for themselves that unclean spirits obey Jesus.
From this we realize that when Jesus says, "be silent!", he does not mean, "make no noise." The man with the unclean spirit has just said, "I know who you are, the Holy One of God." Everyone must realize that Jesus is telling him to stop talking. Jesus does not want him to keep saying this. I wonder, why not? Jesus is the Holy One of God, is he not? Wouldn't he want everyone to know?
From time to time when reading the Gospel, we see this kind of thing--Jesus telling people not to talk about something. It seems odd because Jesus himself comes proclaiming the good news, and yet here he is, smothering the news that he is the Holy One of God. In the particular situation of this Gospel passage, it might be easy enough to understand when we consider the source of the news. This man is known to have an unclean spirit. How trustworthy would he be considered by the townspeople? What would be the effect of hearing that Jesus is the Holy One of God from a man with an unclean spirit? Long before our day and age, this would surely be considered fake news!
I wonder, though, if St. Mark is showing us something more about Jesus here. We are not told what Jesus teaches in the synagogue, but we are shown his power and authority by what he does. The people in the synagogue are shown the authority of Jesus and what do they do? They do not say, "Wow, that was cool," and head home. No, they ask a question. "What is this?" They do not understand what they have seen, and they want to know more. They are involved.
This is the method Jesus uses over and over, isn't it? Instead of explaining the Kingdom of God, he gives us a parable. The parable contains within it the good news, but we have work to do to find it. We ask questions. What can this mean? Instead of talking about Parousia, Jesus performs a miracle. The miracle is a sign, but we have work to do to understand what it means. We ask more questions. What is this? What can this mean? We become involved. By showing us, and not explaining everything, Jesus draws us closer to the mystery. Naturally, we are curious. We want to know more.
In our lives, we might try Jesus' approach to the good news. We have drawn closer to Jesus each week by considering what the Word of God means. But how do we share this with others? Do we stand in front of our homes, preaching to people the good news? ("Hey, Mrs. Campbell, did you hear that Jesus is the Holy One of God?") People might start asking questions, but I doubt they'd be about Jesus. They'd probably be about our sanity!
People don't want to be told what to believe; they want to discover for themselves. So much more joy! Jesus knows this. We know it, too. Could we instead show that we know that Jesus is the Holy One of God? Could we keep sacred time for God? Could we keep our Sabbath--Sunday--holy? Even in this pandemic? Even afterwards? By our lives, would people see and hear for themselves the authority of Jesus? Naturally, they'd become curious. They might start asking questions. They'd want to know more.