Subject to the New Kingdom
In the Gospel of St. Mark, a common theme is that of a king returning to his kingdom to find it overtaken and invaded by enemy forces. In this sense, according to Mark, the Gospel of Jesus can be summed up in this: “Satan, your kingdom must come down. The Kingdom of God is at hand.” Mark’s Gospel is this “return of the king” narrative, as he walks through the country casting out demons who have taken over, bringing the sick back to health, and the dead back to life. Look at what Jesus does and you can see what His Kingdom is intended to look like.
In the last few weeks, the Gospel readings have come from Mark’s Gospel. If you read them straight through, an interesting pattern emerges. First, at the beginning of chapter 5, Jesus and his disciples encounter a man who has been taken over by a demon. He is possessed. He is raging. He is not in control. The demons see Jesus approaching and recognizing his authority immediately rush to him and plead to not be tormented. (Note! Who is this rabbi who instills fear of torment in the tormenters?) Jesus commands them to leave the man, but they beg to at least be sent into a nearby herd of pigs. Jesus obliges and so the demons leave the man, as they’ve been told, and enter the herd of about two-thousand pigs, who then, like the man, lose control of themselves and rush off a cliff in drown in the sea.
The herdsmen, the owners and tenders of the pigs, run away and tell the city and the surrounding region what happened. People hear the news and come to see for themselves. This demon-possessed man was a local legend and now they come to see him all back to normal, clothed, and sane. They’re amazed, but when they hear about what happened to the pigs, they “began to beg Jesus to depart from their region.” Here is the first hint that something is amiss: Jesus’ freeing and healing of the oppressed and tormented man cost the herdsmen their livelihood, and the people are afraid of what might happen if Jesus continues to do stuff like this. They are confused. They are frightened. They are upset. Frankly, freedom and wonder is fantastic until it upsets the status-quo for everyone else.
Just before crossing the lake, the man who had been possessed asks to join Jesus on his journey, but Jesus tells him instead to go home to friends and family and “tell them how much the Lord has done for you.” So the man does, and “everyone marveled.”
On the other side, a big crowd gathers around Jesus. One of the local rulers, also recognizing Jesus for who he is, runs to him and begs for help: “My twelve-year-old daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” Along the way, a woman who had been sick with hemorrhaging for twelve years (Note! Twelve years. A point is being made here), who had lost everything, spend every penny on doctors who were unable to heal her, who kept getting worse, makes her way into the crowd and touches Jesus’ garment. She thinks to herself, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” Immediately she is healed, but Jesus also can feel her faith, and in the midst of the crowd senses her touch. Everyone else is crowded around in astonishment. She has come with faith, not wanting any attention. Just wanting to be healed and believing fervently that Jesus can do it. He turns around and says, “Who touched my garments?” And he looked around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
At this time, the ruler’s servant comes from the house to meet him, saying “It’s too late. Don’t bother the Rabbi. Your daughter has died.” But overhearing what they said, Jesus says to the man, “Do not fear, only believe.” And he allows no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. They soon come to his house and there is commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. (Note! This was Jewish custom, to hire mourners) When Jesus enters, he says to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And it says, “and they laughed at him.” But he makes them go outside and brings the child's parents and those who were with him into where the child is. He says to her,“Little girl, stand up.” And immediately she gets up and starts walking, and “they were immediately overcome with amazement.”
We see here in chapter 5 this whole pattern of demons being cast out, the sick being healed, and the dead coming back to life. This is the king returning to his home, his kingdom, setting things back in order and dismantling the shadow government of Satan. Many are amazed, but they are also contrasted with those who actually recognize Jesus for who he is. The demons know he is the king, the authority, here and beg to be spared harsh punishment for their occupation. The sick woman recognizes Jesus as the only one who can heal her. The local ruler of the synagogue recognizes Jesus as the ultimate ruler, even over himself, with the authority to bring the dead to life.
Finally, Jesus reaches his hometown and begins to teach in the synagogue on the Sabbath. The people are again astonished, marveling: “Where did he get this stuff? This wisdom, this power? Isn’t this that carpenter, Mary’s kid? His family is from here, it’s that kid right?” They’re convinced they know him. They’ve watch him grow up. They know his family. Yet to do not recognize him. They’re amazed at his wisdom and power, but it quickly shifts: “They took offense at him.” His own hometown, his own people, so convinced they know who he is, are offended when he steps out of the bound they had laid for him. As a result, he is unable to do much more than heal a few sick people. And look how things turn: “And he marveled because of their unbelief.” He then sends his disciples out as his kingdom agents, giving them authority over demons and the power to heal the sick. “The king has returned! The Kingdom of God is at hand! Make way!”
The king has returned, but it’s not all good news. The oppression of demons, sickness, and death over the people is one thing, and the people all want it gone and are amazed when it is overturned. However, they begin to realize that this is not some traveling magician. This is the king. This is an authority who does more than just solve problems. The implications are bigger than that. As the herdsmen, the people of the village, the professional mourners, and Jesus’s hometown neighbors begin to realize that the return of the king’s rule might have implications on their own sphere of authority, might mean a change in their lifestyle, they take offense. They wish him gone. “It’s amazing, it’s wonderful, we’re grateful for the help, but we’d rather have the managed oppression of the status quo than a new order that challenges or changes our own order we’ve made for ourselves.” It is this basis on which Jesus is rejected, beaten, mocked, executed, as well as his followers. The people don’t mind him solving their problems. They mind being subjects of a new Kingdom.
Jesus has not come to solve our problems, but to overturn the status quo – a shadow kingdom of death, sickness, oppression, sin. The King has returned to set things right again! To heal the sick, to raise the dead to life, to cast out all powers and forces of oppression. Why? Because the Kingdom of God is at hand, and in this kingdom, the sick are healed, the dead are alive, the oppressed are free! The Kingdom of God is at hand, so repent! Clear the way! Get ready for the goodness and justice of God! If that doesn’t sound like good news, then maybe we’re part of the problem.
So how about us? We must ask ourselves: Where or how is it that Jesus offends me? What part(s) of the status quo am I refusing to give up?