Lectio Divina: Mark’s Gospel (1:21-34)

We continue our lectio by praying with the next few verses of Mark’s Gospel…

MARK 1:21-34

This passage confronts us with Jesus the healer; Jesus the one who makes whole again; Jesus who exercises a power which the world has not seen nor experienced; Jesus who prays in community and in solitude; Jesus who is a man inserted into his own religious tradition and practice entirely; Jesus for whom people search; Jesus who is always challenging and comforting the society in which he lives and moves and works; Jesus who has compassion and is compassion; Jesus as he who, once encountered, is the one who overwhelms us so that we cannot help but proclaim him.

We remind ourselves that this prayerful reading of the inspired text is a medium by which we accomplish our desire to encounter Christ, and he reaches out generously to us.  Thus, we try to carry with us the text which strikes us, each day, allowing it to weave itself into our thoughts, speech, behaviour, relationships. From reading the text I move to allow the text to read me and move me in my gaze through the Spirit to myself and God.

We begin considering Jesus on the Sabbath, in the synagogue, teaching (vv21-22).  He is where he should be – a man of faith, born of parents who know their faith line of descent, and obviously a man who practices the faith which he has received.  And he does what any adult male Jew could do – comment on the Scriptures which have been read during the synagogue Sabbath prayers.

Jesus is worshipping with the community to which he belongs, in a way which is consecrated by tradition and familiar practice.  We’re not told what he thinks about it, how it challenges him, – simply that he is there,taking part, and teaching. Immediately he invites me to ponder how I take the part which is mine in my community celebrations.  There is, here, an invitation to consider my own practice and attitude to the public worship and liturgy of the Church and the praying community to which I belong.  It is always about my claiming the part which is mine and which has been marked out for me (this, after all, is what participation means – to take hold of the part which is mine!).  And, of course, Jesus is present in the Church’s prayer and liturgy as much as he is present in this synagogue on that Sabbath in Capernaum.  

What decisions have I to make about my worshipping practice? 

For the first time we hear of Jesus’ authority, which so impresses those who hear him.  The scribes whom Mark mentions have their authority and power to speak and teach and give opinions based on the learning which they have acquired, and the socio-religious status which has been accorded them.  Their office isn’t an official one, but it has been given a weight and dimensions which make them formidable teachers – virtually beyond contradiction. But Jesus is entirely different.

What impresses so deeply about Jesus’ teaching is that he and his message are inseparable.  He is the message.  Those who hear him are bowled over by the conviction which he has in his belief and practice and preaching.  Jesus is speaking like this because he is, in his own person, utterly convincing. The message and the man are one.  The preaching and the reality are one. All is Christ. All is the kingdom.

Can you recall someone whom you have heard, whom you have seen, that you can say this about?  You know that this person believes absolutely all that he is saying and doing, and that it is being said and done, not for any personal gain or profit, or for a barely discernible agenda or motive, but because it is the truth of the matter.  The person is utterly sincere; they are utterly authentic; they possess complete integrity. We are convinced by the truth which they speak and which has consumed them. And I want to be, in some degree, like that.

This authority in teaching and preaching is not one which coerces, or forces, or brow beats.  It is not demagoguery, or angry ranting, or fake news pretending to be truth! This is authority which invites – it invites consideration, discernment, right questioning, change of life and thought and attitude, search for a way which is liberating and transforming.  It is an authority which convinces and comforts, because it says that Jesus always accompanies the one who engages with him.  

Central to Mark’s teaching in the Gospel is Jesus’ confrontation with damaged humanity – men and women who are broken physically, overcome with inner demons and conflicts which degrade the image and likeness of God in the human person, and scarred in their failed relationships.  In this short passage we are given just such accounts, and they continue in the remainder of the chapter.

In each account the healing happens quite publically – there are witnesses to these events, who are astounded, puzzled and emboldened to speak about Jesus.  The healing which Christ brings is complete, and it has other effects.

The illnesses and possessions which we read about in the Gospel are damaging at all levels.  The person suffering is revealed in all their fragility and powerlessness – they have been changed by their illness, lost something of their status and place in society, become separated.  Whether the illnesses are to be taken literally or to be seen as indicators of deeper malaise in each person is for each one of us to discern. But they ask us to reflect on the things which make us fragile, which degrade our relationships with self, and others, and God, and the things which pullus down and make us less like ourselves, and less truly ourselves.  Each of us can take notice of the vulnerabilities – literally, wounds – which are as yet unhealed in our lives, and which invite our attention.  Perhaps the wounds will never be fully healed, but our Christian vocation asks us to seek the support which allows us to live more fully while carrying our woundedness.

Or perhaps it is the invitation to notice the woundedness in others.  How many had walked passed this man who had an unclean spirit in him (verse 23), or the many who were brought to Jesus that evening, sick and possessed?  Very often we fear that we won’t know how to respond to one who is deeply in need and so we avoid the crucial moment when we can reach out to them. Part of our Christian life is to try to anticipate the need of the other so that they do not have to feel the humiliation of asking for help.

Jesus, in these verses, is the healer par excellence.  But he is first of all the one who encounters the person precisely where they are.  That remains a challenge for each of us on a daily basis – not to judge according to the evidence which most readily presents itself (the outward appearance of affliction) but to look beyond this to a person who is asking for our support, our ear, our accompaniment.  

Our lectio this week asks us:

  • To be a person whose discipleship is one which is marked by authenticity and integrity, so that my example to others might have authority;
  • to notice those around us who are suffering, who are driven down, who are struggling with difficulties which perhaps cannot be articulated.  For these people whom I encounter, how can I allow Christ to encounter them, in my person or in my prayer?

-Part of our continuous lectio divina on the Gospel According to Mark-

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