A friend placed a copy of John Macquarrie’s Principles of Christian Theology on the table and said, “He talks a lot about the beingness of God.” Brief pause. “But I don’t think we have to talk that way.” “Not only do we not have to talk that way,” I responded, “we shouldn’t.” That proclamation will not, however, restrain me from mentioning the beingness of Jesus, demonstrated in a miraculous mending of a lost mind.
Deut. 18:15-20 • Ps. 11 • 1 Cor. 8:1-13 • Mark 1:21-28
First, however, let us approach the lesson from Deuteronomy in which Moses promises the people that the Lord will raise up a prophet like himself. The purpose, as Moses explains, is to give the people a cooled off and less intense blast of divine fire. For the people said: “If I hear the voice of the Lord my God any more, or ever again see this great fire on mount Horeb, I will die.” The successor of Moses, expressed in the singular, may suggest a larger whole, the succession of the prophetic office itself. Still, the thought of one final successor hung on in the consciousness of the Jews right up to the time of Jesus’ ministry.
In John’s gospel, for instance, following the feeding of the 5,000, we hear: “The people therefore, after they saw the sign he accomplished, were saying, ‘This is the true prophet who is coming into the world’” (6:14). The imperfect tense, of course, signals past continuous action. They were saying again and again. Following a homily given by Jesus, the people were saying “This is the prophet.” “This is the Christ” (7:40). There was, evidently, some considerable buzz around the idea that Jesus was precisely what the Jews had waited for: the final prophet. Other messianic terms were used as well, especially Lord and King.
While the lesson from St. Mark says nothing about Jesus being the prophet, it says a great deal about what was expected from the prophet/messiah. In contrasting Jesus’ authority with that of the scribes, who had little or none, Mark is not so much insulting the scribes as pointing out the general religious condition of the people. The glory, power, and authority of God’s presence had waned — indeed, was never said to occupy the second temple. They were in the condition of those who wait for the arrival of what they once had, but have no longer, or have only as a persistent ache.
Jesus arrives and teaches as one having authority (exousian). The Greek word connotes ability and strength. On closer examination we see the preposition ex which means out of, and the stem Ousia which means property, possession, substance. The last word, substance, still used in the Prayer Book in precisely this way, indicates totality of being. Out of the fullness of his being, out of the very person he is, Jesus teaches and heals.
To drive home the point that Jesus is not teaching how to improve the good person you already are, he presents himself to “one having an unclean spirit,” which, in the symbolic world of the story, represents the sad soul reading this meditation. It is one thing to be sick, another to be truly trapped. Jesus will not have it. From the deep cavern of his divine being he speaks with all the authority of Genesis 1. Silence! Come out of him! This is the prophet with power. The doctor has come.
Look It Up
Read Mark 1:24. Yes, he has come to destroy demonic powers.
Think About It
When the children of Israel first saw manna they said “What is this?” After Jesus healed the man with an unclean spirit, they said “What is this?” There are more things in heaven and earth….