Manage episode 278337825 series 1950523
The spirit immediately descends bodily upon Jesus coming out of the water. Immediately sends him, like the mighty Elijah at Sinai, forty days in the wilderness. To be road tested, and to show Satan in no uncertain terms his full authority now disclosed on earth. Immediately he calls others in the same Spirit, to walk and learn alongside him. And immediately he teaches and in so doing finds he has beckoned and so confronts head on the kingdom of Satan. In the form of a man swallowed of all identity by a demon. The demon addresses him as the Holy One of God, Holiness is the domain of priests. Set apart for service. Aaron is the Holy One of the Lord (Ps 106:16). Of the prophets, Elisha with the double spirit of Elijah upon him, is declared by the Shunamite woman “holy man of God.” As Elisha is to Elijah, so Jesus is to John the Baptist, and yet now finally and decisively. The spirit does not just come upon him but settles and remains. Then in the authority of that spirit the king of demons is put on notice that his time has come.
The man in the synagogue is literally in an unclean spirit. So much so that when he speaks it is the demon alone speaking. Two questions are rapidly posed, and that the answers are known is revealed in the third statement. Yes Jesus has something to do with them and yes their destruction is the point. Some think that the naming of Jesus is an effort at control and counter-attack. That the entire realm of Satan is here at stake is revealed by the individual demon’s first person plural us. It is the individual demon who is then addressed, rebuked, silenced, and driven out.
That this more dramatic exorcism is preceded by Jesus’ synagogue teaching is of a piece with the kind of authority Jesus is manifesting. No invitation by officials is mentioned or intimated. He enters and teaches.
The character of his teaching is not one of explication of scriptural authority, but is an authority like unto it. The source for it. In a word: Prophetic. The same direct authority that is what makes law and prophecy what they are. Just as there is no mediation separating Jesus and his kingdom from the direct encounter with the kingdom of Satan, so his teaching is unmediated and incarnated. It comes out of himself with authority. Here we have the explanation for why the final response of the observers that day has collated both displays of authority under the single rubric ‘a new teaching’ including an exorcism as part of its classroom manifestation. He commands and he is obeyed.
The selection from the Old Testament – the raising up of a prophet like Moses – helps bring the Gospel in Old and New Testaments into coordination. The chapter from Deuteronomy begins with reference to the tribe of Levi. Holy. Set apart. Different than the other tribes and called to a specific purpose with reference to them all. Deuteronomy is situated on the banks of the Jordan, a last speech of Moses to a new generation. From this vantage point life in the land—its challenges and its institutional rapid response teams—are envisaged. Priesthood, prophecy, kingship.
Life in the land is life in the midst a different kingdom – described as full of abominable and death dealing practices. Soothsaying, divination, augury, sorcery, offering in death daughters and sons, necromancy, wizardry, consulting mediums – all of this is anticipated and an alternative kingdom and an alternative form of revelation proposed. Just as Moses spoke from the mountain for God, so God will raise up a prophet like unto Moses. The request from the people that Moses speak for them, at the time borne of fear, is here taken as fully appropriate to God’s plans then and now and into the future. God will put his own words in mouth of the prophet.
Here the subsequent history of prophecy is being anticipated, as we will see it from Joshua to Malachi. The notion of a generation to generation lineage of prophets—Elijah passing his mantle to Elisha—is not developed here in any specific way. The subsequent history is content to use the catchall phrase ‘I warned them by all my servants the prophets.’ And we know that the formal collection of prophetic writings counts 3 major and twelve minor prophets with books bearing their names.
From the standpoint of the last words of Moses on the other side of the Jordan, all this lies in the future. At some point in time this prophetic legacy does not so much end as it lives on in the writings the prophets names bear. Their words live on and remain alive speech in that form. In that form the reference to a prophet with authority promised by God to Moses remains live speech, and for one final moment in time the prophet like Moses takes the form of John the Baptist and even Jesus himself, in his Elisha-like healing and teaching ministry in Mark’s Gospel. We can see the outlines of this theme in Mark’s gospel. Jesus prophet mighty in word and deed. The kingdom of the Spirit in bodily form.
The epistle reading returns us to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. You may have noticed that this isn’t exactly a non-stop continuous reading; the letter is too long for that. So selections can be made with an eye toward their appropriateness alongside the OT and Gospel reading. That may be the case today.
First a note about modern translations and their use of quotation marks in this eighth chapter. In verse 1 Paul is referring to the claim being made by the Corinthians, or some of them: they say “all of us possess knowledge” and they mean that in a positive sense. That is, they know that food sacrificed to idols oughtn’t to be a problem because such gods as are claimed to be sacrificed to don’t in fact exist. No big deal.
This is confirmed at verse 4 where again quotation marks appear. “An idol has no existence” is what these Corinthians know. “There is no God but one” – this is something one can know by reading Deuteronomy 6, for example.
Paul’s response is in part confirming. As a faithful Israelite he knows that the Lord God is Lord alone. He also knows that though Israel may confess this to be the truth, they live in a world where other deities are not just vying for attention but are succeeding. “You shall have other gods before me” is an acknowledgment of this reality on the ground, and of Israel’s rejection of it. The OT confesses God to be one because of the knowledge they have been privileged to receive from God. Yet the on-the-ground reality is omnipresent and threatening. Aaron makes gods when Moses is gone, as he has it, for too long.
Knowledge isn’t the same thing as reality.
And this is of course his point of departure. Knowledge puffs up, but loves edifies, builds up. Better than to know is to be known by God, and to love him in return. To think that knowledge functions otherwise is the best indicator that the wrong kind of knowledge—without charity—is in play.
Having made these two key points, Paul speaks of the actual situation on the ground in Corinth. In antiquity meat was sacrificed to idols, and it was eaten in that context, taken home, of given to the priests who could in turn sell it. So what of Corinthian Christians who knew the meat came to their table in this way, or weren’t sure, or were eating in the context of others, at non-Christian meals. Paul makes it clear that some of these new Christians once did indeed know well that the meat had been sacrificed to gods, and because of that their conscience is objecting. No knowledge will lift them up and out of that.
So Paul counsels that their liberty can be a stumbling block and so to major in love and forbearance, following his example.
The word for liberty in this case is the same word usually translated as authority, force, the freedom to do as one please due to power. The Centurian is one in authority, who tells those under him to do what he wishes. The liberty of the Christian is grounded in the true authority, that which Jesus exercises in today’s Gospel. There is no freedom or liberty for the Christian that isn’t a participation in his freedom, which is love in saving authority.
The choice of the psalm for today takes some reflection. It doesn’t seem to marry up to the usual OT-Gospel pairing, except in the most general way. It is an acrostic poem, the beginning of each line starting with the letters of the alphabet. A skilled production. It’s theme is wisdom. Not knowledge. Wisdom which finds its alphabetic beginning and ending, its comprehensive life, grounded in the fear of the LORD. This fear enables those in the synagogue to acknowledge the giver of life and truth, in astonishment. It leads to wisdom that builds up in obedient praise and daily living, and not puffed up knowledge or cowered conscience. In that sense love’s cousin is wisdom, found in the fear of the LORD, which builds up and strengthens.
In the language of Miles Coverdale, which has stayed in my head: the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, a good understanding hath all they that do thereafter, the praise of it endureth forever.