"From the Pulpit" - reflections on the weekly texts, from Pastor Greg at Living Lord Lutheran Church
Jesus and his disciples] went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught.22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24and 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.” 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27They 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.” 28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
from our gospel for Sunday, January 28th - Mark 1:21-28
Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father, and the LORD Jesus Christ.
Some of you may recall last year, an interview on CBS with Gayle King, interviewing R Kelly, the multi-platinum selling, grammy award-winning recording artist. (The R is short for his first name, Robert.) She sat down with him with an exclusive interview face to face, as he was facing decades in prison for his conviction regarding abusing and imprisoning young women over decades. It was a tense exchange, as you can imagine.
As the interview went on, King asked Kelly point blank if he abused these women. And Kelly became increasingly agitated, getting up, looking square into the camera, pointing his finger, as tears began to flow down his face. He obviously was concerned about jail time, about his money and his reputation, all of which I could certainly understand.
And, as he got up from his chair and began his rant, Gayle King kept saying in a very soft, almost compassionate tone, "Robert...Robert...Robert", obviously referring to his birth name. She was trying to calm him. Trying to get him to focus. I could almost hear a maternal component in her demeanor, as if she were trying to comfort her own son. It was a very powerful moment in TV journalism, I remember thinking. This nearly out of control, powerful man facing years in prison, having a meltdown, and this almost motherly voice calling out his name, in order to calm him down. (YouTube "Gayle King R Kelly CBS" and you can see the complete interview.)
Now, I'm not for a minute downplaying the seriousness of the charges against Kelly, or the gravity of the situation he found himself in. I'm not making any judgments on him or his case - these things are what our court system does. But I am recalling this incident from an outsider's view, and in light of our gospel for this Sunday. Quite the opposite. As I watched the interview unfold, my emotions were not "he got what he deserved", or that he's a bad guy. But instead, I felt almost compassion for this man who had been backed into a corner, largely at his own doing.
Which brings us to our gospel for Sunday, January 28th. It's early in Jesus' ministry, according to Mark, the gospel writer. In fact, this is his first act as Jesus the Messiah. He begins his ministry in the church - in the synagogue. In his own setting. He's preaching, and teaching, in front of his hometown crowd. And someone enters the worship setting, possessed of a demon/demons (likely some sort of mental illness of some sort.) Worship is disrupted, the man is crying out for help, and as you can imagine, it's a very tense scene in the synagogue.
Should Jesus just keep on preaching? Call security to get the threat out of the way? Condemn the man for being so disruptive in the midst of worship? No. What does Jesus do? He stops what he's doing, and focuses on this troubled man in their midst. He addresses his infirmity by calling out the demon/s inside the man (or healing hin.) Nothing in all of creation in that single moment in that temple was more important than this man's healing. Tending to this man's troubled soul. And so Jesus stops whatever it is he was doing, and addresses him, or the demons inside him.
It's the great shepherd of the sheep leaving behind the 99 sheep to tend to the one sheep who is lost. Preaching could wait. Teaching could wait. Whatever else is going on in the world could wait. Those gathered in that synagogue could wait, until this troubled man was tended to. And I can just imagine, just like Gayle King in her interview with R Kelly, Jesus calling out this man's name. Comforting him. Inviting him to come closer. Compassionately and without judgment, inviting the man to let Jesus heal him. Not condemning him. Not judging him. Just loving him in that moment.
This is the Jesus of the bible that I love so much, and that gives me the most comfort. The tender and caring Jesus who drops everything to tend to the one in front of him, who may be in need. To let everything else around him disappear, as he deals with what's in front of him. It's as if nothing else in all creation matters, except this man's healing. And he doesn't stop until the job is finished.
In my prayer time, and perhaps yours, as I offer up my prayers, I feel as though I'm in a very intimate relationship with Jesus himself. A private conversation between him and me. Nothing else in all of creation matters to Jesus and me in that moment. War in the middle east? It can wait. Injustice around the world? We'll deal with that later. In that moment, when it's just Jesus and me, I'm the most important person in the world at that time. And I feel I'm heard. Acknowledged. Welcomed. Accepted. Affirmed.
Sooner or later, all of us will, or already have, be dealing with adversity in our lives. We may not be facing years of prison time, but our challenge may be declining health, or a financial hardship, or a broken relationship. Times when, just like R Kelly, you felt your back is up against a wall, and you have no advocate. No voice. Nowhere to turn. This is when hearing that voice of the Risen One, calling out your name, brings a sense of peace to a troubled soul.
So, read this passage again. Imagine yourself in that temple that day, in that setting, watching Jesus first preach, and then address that man possessed. It's a very intimate look at Jesus' most compelling self. The one who drops everything for our sake. The one who even walks to a cross for our sake. The one who even beats death itself, for our sake.
And, as you pray, as you engage with the Risen One, maybe you'll hear him call out your name, too. Inviting you in. Welcoming you. Loving you.