You can see all the lectionary readings for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.
In today’s passage, Jesus and his friend arrive in the city of Capernaum. Jesus goes to the synagogue to teach people on the Sabbath. They were amazed by him. The Bible says, “He did not teach like their teachers of the law. He taught like someone with authority.” A man possessed by an evil spirit is also at the synagogue. The man shouted at Jesus:
“Jesus of Nazareth! What do you want with us? Did you come to destroy us? I know who you are—God’s Holy One!”
Jesus, his voice full of warning, said, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” The evil spirit made the man shake. Then the spirit made a loud noise and came out of him.
Pretty dramatic stuff! Mark says the people are amazed as this is something new happening and at his authority to command even evil spirits. Again, the idea of him having authority unseen before. So the news about Jesus spreads all through Galilee after this.
I struggle with reading about demonic possession in the Bible–like what does it mean in our more scientific time? As a college student, I actually attended a service where the leadership started to attempt to cast out a demon, but I found it disturbing and weird, so I got up and walked out and didn’t go back to that church. What was actually happening when Jesus cast out demons? I don’t know. Perhaps it was just a first-century understanding of a severe mental illness and that’s what Jesus was healing.
I think there are two important elements in this story that explain why it’s part of our Epiphany readings, which have so far all about how special Jesus is and about calling us into following him. First, note how the people marveled at his authority–he was not like other teachers, because he taught and acted with authority–Jesus was unlike anyone else. Like the rest of the Epiphany readings, we see Jesus as unique and set apart.
Second, this story is about Jesus beginning his ministry and a major part of his ministry was going out among the people, teaching and healing–in this case a spiritual kind of healing. Our work in following him is also a ministry of teaching and healing. We are called to go out into the world to share the good news of his kingdom and to bring healing and love with us to help his kingdom come.