The Rev. Jay Lawlor
“Jesus as the Incursion of God”
4th Sunday After the of Epiphany, Year B, January 28, 2018
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church – Richmond, IN
First acts are important. The first act in a book, play, or movie establishes what the story is going to be about and sets us on the journey as that story unfolds. Paying attention to the first thing Jesus does as a public act of ministry in a gospel is important to the theology and outlook of the gospel writer.
In Mark, Jesus’ first act of public ministry is to go to the synagogue and teach. While there, he heals a man of an unclean spirit – he calls out evil with authority. The crowd is so amazed at Jesus’ teaching “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee. (Mark 1:27-28, NRSV)
Mark reveals how Jesus crosses boundaries and exerts his authority all in proclaiming a different vision for the world. Jesus’ proclamations threaten the ‘powers-that-be’. It sets up a struggle with the power of evil. For Mark’s Gospel, it is both cosmic and earthly.
Matt Skinner, Professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn, suggests that:
Mark directs concentrated thematic and theological energy toward depicting Jesus’ arrival in the world (and his ministry in the world) as an incursion. Jesus and his message represent nothing less than God’s attempt to enter into and reclaim our existence, bringing the reign (“kingdom”) of God into places where other reigns claim to hold sway. […] God’s incursion and Jesus’ vision of a different reign provoke opposition in Mark, because other reigning powers never like to be revealed as pretenders and predators. (Matt Skinner at http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?m=4377&post=4999)
I love Skinner’s observation about Jesus being an incursion of God in the world. Jesus arrives on the scene to reveal the reign of God over and against the reigns of this world which are in opposition to God’s love.
We often associate the word ‘incursion’ as a hostile entrance. Yet it also means an entering into something, such as an activity or undertaking. Jesus is God entering into the world for the purpose of transformation. A transformation which turns evil on its head and replaces injustice, hatred, and violence with justice, love, and peace.
To do this Jesus will need to cross some boundaries and offer a different way of being in the world. He will speak as one authority with God because there is no separation between who he was and the incursion, or inbreaking, of the presence of God in the world.
This is why the crowd in the synagogue are amazed at Jesus’ teaching. And what he taught must have been unsettling to the power of evil because evil can recognize when it is being challenged. “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? […]” (Mark 1:24b, NRSV)
But Jesus offers deliverance from the unclean spirits, the demons, which can infect us. Jesus offers a restoring of wholeness from those things which separate us from the wholeness of the beloved community. Jesus confronts the evil of society marginalizing a man because he is somehow “different.” Jesus heals by restoring him to the fullness of community.
But unclean spirits do not come out easily. Evil does not depart without conflict and struggle. There are those in society who do not want wholeness and inclusion for all. The Beloved Community is somehow a threat to them.
That is one evil we must struggle with in our world. And a major weapon of evil is fear. Fear of the “other”; fear of change; fear of love over hate; peace over violence; fear of justice over the oppression of control. At the heart is a fear of trusting in God’s beloved community over a desire for unrelenting privilege and power. Evil wants us to be afraid. As long as we are afraid we are silent. And when we are silent, evil has the upper hand.
It can be a difficult task. As Richard Rohr observes, the price for real transformation is high. It means that we have to change our loyalties from power, success, money, ego, and control to the imitation of a Vulnerable God where servanthood, surrender, and simplicity reign. (Richard Rohr)
Jesus is the incursion of God in the world. He is one with the authority and reign of God. And Jesus’ first act of public ministry in Mark’s Gospel is to teach. In so doing he calls out evil and invites transformation. It is there, as evil knows, where fear is broken and evil destroyed.
Jesus as the incursion of God was doing something new in the world. Jesus was God entering into the world for the purpose of transformation. A transformation which turns evil on its head and replaces injustice, hatred, and violence with justice, love, and peace. Amen.