During this season of Epiphany, we’ve seen in our readings in Mark’s Gospel the unfolding of a primary Epiphany theme—the revealing of Jesus’ identity. In 1:1-11, Mark declares Jesus to be the Messiah, God’s Son, by offering testimonies from John the Baptist, the Holy Spirit and God the Father. In 1:12-45, Mark then offers tangible proof of Jesus’ identity in several mighty acts (signs) performed by Jesus—ones that befit God’s Messiah. The first sign involves conquering Satan in the wilderness (v. 12). This is followed by multiple signs in which Jesus conquers Satan in everyday life: driving out an evil spirit (vv. 21-18); healing Peter’s mother-in-law (vv. 29-34); and healing a leper (vv. 40-45).
In 2:1-12, Mark adds the sign of Jesus healing a paralytic. Not only does Jesus heal the man of his disability, but seeing the man’s faith declares that his sins are forgiven. To the Jewish religious authorities, this is blasphemy. Nevertheless, Jesus declares that “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (v.10), thus declaring himself equal with God.
To this list of messianic signs, Mark adds in 2:13-17 the calling of Levi (Matthew). Not only does Jesus cast out demons and heal sick bodies, but he also heals sick souls—even the soul of a tax collector, a person despised by Jews as traitorous, greedy, dishonest and immoral. Not only does Jesus call Levi to follow him—he has the audacity to go to dinner at Levi’s home where the guests include multiple tax collectors and assorted other sinners. To the religious authorities, Jesus has gone way too far! They ask his disciples why Jesus is behaving this way. Jesus overhears and answers by saying that just as it is expected that a doctor will associate with sick people, so it is appropriate (even necessary) for him to associate with sinners. After all, the whole purpose of his coming, in accordance with his true identity, is to call sinners to a new life with him (v. 17).
In this short, power-packed section of Mark we find multiple signs of the kingdom of God evident in Jesus’ person, words and actions. We might ask, are these signs seen in our churches? Do cheats, prostitutes and the lame flock to our churches and there find Jesus’ healing touch? Or do we react like the teachers of the law and shun such folks? Something to think about.
Our Father, today we proclaim again that Jesus is the Messiah, he is the Son of God our Savior. We are reminded of our calling to follow him—to be with him, sharing in what he is doing in his ongoing ministry of healing, restoring, blessing. We know that he is Messiah, not us, nevertheless, we are mindful that we are his disciples. Help us look to Jesus, follow where he leads, share in what he is doing in the power of the Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
by Ted Johnston