Mark’s gospel uses the word “immediately” a lot. But what if it isn’t literal or a figure of speech? What if the evangelist is getting us to see beyond our reality–to where the kin-dom already is?
How the immediacy of Jesus reveals the presence of the kin-dom
Epiphany 4B | Mark 1:21-28
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Time travel. It’s the holy grail of superpowers.
If you had to pick a superpower, you’d probably pick flight or super speed. But time travel would be amazing.
With “what if” we already make a game of going back in time—asking each other what we would change and who we would meet. Who would you have dinner with?
In the world of hypotheticals, time travel is the sexiest of powers.
I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately. I’m playing this video game called Life is Strange. The character you play can rewind time a few minutes. And it plays with how you make decisions. Because you can test out different decisions before making any one of them final. The thing is, rewinding time doesn’t make the decision-making easier. It’s actually harder.
And with our celebrating a new year, reflecting on the year which has passed, the getting another year older, it all has me thinking of time and our presence in the now.
Our translation of this morning’s gospel reading smoothed over an episode of time travel. You don’t believe me?
Between Fact and Fiction
Scott Hoezee argues that if we were to translate that opening verse literally, we’d hear it like this:
“And coming into Capernaum, immediately the Sabbath arrived and he taught in the synagogue.”
“Mark is no doubt signaling a mere temporal linkage here but it almost sounds as though when Jesus shows up, the Sabbath follows him immediately as does the teaching that comes as a result.”
The evangelist we call Mark uses this word we translate as immediately a lot. Like, a lot a lot. And we always take it like a figure of speech—a way to move the story along.
So it’s not time travel exactly.
But treating it like a figure of speech isn’t enough either. There’s more juice there.
Think about it the way Hoezee suggests. At the intersection between the Biblical literalists who need the Bible to be factual and actual and the scientific literalists who need to explain every last bit to believe any of it, there is this other space. Where the idea that “immediately the Sabbath arrives” is neither fact nor fiction.
In that space, Jesus arrives and wherever he goes the Sabbath follows. Not as a day or moment in time, but as an era, epoch, undefined but real.
And what we already know about Jesus is that Sabbath is way more than a day or a devotion to Jesus. It’s the nearness of the Kin-dom of God.
Immediately the Sabbath
This is what Mark tells us here. Right after calling the first disciples to drop their nets and become “people fishers” after being driven into the wilderness to be tempted after being baptized by John. This is the nearness, the movement, the presence of God pitching the world forward, ready or not.
Immediately the Sabbath.
So where does he go on the Sabbath? But the synagogue. Again, immediately a possessed man shows up to derail the placid community.
And then, when it’s all done, immediately, the fame spreads and everybody knows Jesus.
This isn’t time travel in the physical, measurable sense and I don’t think it’s the metaphorical sense. It isn’t just physics but I think it is tangible. I think it’s power we can’t comprehend.
Years ago, back when the first X-Men movie came out on DVD, my buddy and I were trying to show it to our friend, Kelly. He hadn’t seen it yet. We were something like 20 minutes in when a bunch of people immediately came in and wouldn’t stop talking. It was incredibly distracting. Not to mention rude. But we got them to quiet down so Kelly could see the movie.
And then when the super villain, Magneto came on the screen, they started to nerd out about how Magneto couldn’t use magnetism to manipulate non-ferrous metals and how unrealistic this movie was. For the next half an hour. They wouldn’t stop talking about magnetism and how this couldn’t work.
So we did the only polite thing we could think of: the three of us got up and left.
This is what comes to mind when I get into conversations about whether or not demon possession in Mark is really mental illness. It’s another kind of literalism. Its an obsessive compulsive response trying to order the disordered and explain the unexplainable. To make everything fit.
We can’t comprehend the power because we are measuring with the wrong tools.
This is a healing story, but it’s really an announcing story. It’s like the booming voice and the spirit like a dove coming to Jesus in the river. But it’s Jesus in a synagogue and the spirit is recognized by the people and the voice isn’t God; it’s a demon. And in Mark’s gospel, only the demons understand who Jesus really is. And the power he possesses.
The people don’t understand, but they see it. They see it in contrast with what they normally see. They see it alongside the scribes who wield a power over the scripture and a power over them politically, but it isn’t the same kind of power as Jesus possesses.
The scribes have a literal power–one which helps determine whether or not they go to jail.
They’re powerful in that way. But Jesus is different; he has real authority.
I wonder how many of us walk into church, doing our duty, hear our scribe-style preaching and we get frustrated that the preacher isn’t Jesus.
Or if we’d be scandalized by the outburst of the demon-possessed man; so much so that we’d explain it away with mental illness and pretend Jesus isn’t really here.
And how many times we miss the real preaching, “with authority” that comes in Jesus exorcising the demon. Because we’re obsessed with how rather than why?
How we might miss all of this because we’re torn between only two options: magical thinking and rational explanations, so obsessively literal.
Would we even see the demon revealing Jesus to us? Can we see the power of God beyond the numbers and the easy answers? That we so long to see God’s power we fail to see God’s authority?
Can we hear immediately and know that Jesus is bringing the Sabbath with him? As if everywhere he walks, there’s a rainbow.
Here we go! Here’s the sign! Stop your work! Just be with God!
Can we hear that immediately helps reveal the nearness of the kin-dom?
Where Jesus goes, so does Sabbath.
This is why we have the scribes and the demon and the people and the healing and shouting because Sabbath is about restoring and bringing wholeness to loneliness. It’s about the nearness of the Kin-dom and the weakness of the scribes to see it.
In the coming weeks we’ll get stories of Jesus circumventing the idea of power and the powerful—heading to Jerusalem to embody weakness, not strength; love, not might; healing, not violence; forgiveness, not certainty: all the things we think make a powerless person get filtered through the Sabbath to reveal the power of God.
But today we get to see the power for what it is and whose it is. That it comes with Jesus. It isn’t measured or reasoned or named. We just know that it’s weird and beautiful.
The Sabbath reminds us of his presence and his promise. A promise of Shalom, of Jubilee, of a just Kin-dom so near to us, we can see it. Visible and tangible; between a dream and this world…just different. We can see it in him. And we can know that is real.