4th Sunday after the Epiphany

January 30, 2022


With power and authority

Then [Jesus] went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath began to teach the people. They were amazed at his teaching, because his message had authority. In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an evil spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, “Ha! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!” “Be quiet!” Jesus said sternly. “Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him. 

All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What is this teaching? With authority and power he gives orders to evil spirits and they come out!” And the news about him spread throughout the surrounding area. 

Jesus left the synagogue and went to the home of Simon. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Jesus to help her. So he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up at once and began to wait on them. 

When the sun was setting, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them. Moreover, demons came out of many people, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew he was the Christ.

At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. But he said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent”. And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea. (Luke 4:31-44)

We pick up the account of Jesus where Luke paused last Sunday. Jesus was about to be rejected with violence by Nazareth but he walks through the crowd and heads north east to the edge of the Sea of Galilee up in the north west, Capernaum, a fishing village, and if the town sign is anything to go by, today it reads ‘Capernaum – The Town of Jesus’. The site reputed to be of Peter’s house is now quite a modern church and part of the Franciscan monastery there and very close to site of the synagogue which is a ruin built on top of an earlier synagogue thought to have been in existence in Jesus’ time. Walking among the stone walls – no roof – even though those walls are 400 – 500 years later than Jesus – we can imagine that perhaps Jesus walked on the very spot where we were walking. Such is the fascination of religious tourism – seeing the sites and imagining the Bible happening there.

What do we imagine? I dare say it is easier – and more dramatic – to imagine the miracles, the crowds, the awe and wonder, even the confusion with the crying out and then silencing of voices claiming that ‘Jesus is the Holy One of God here to destroy us’. Imagine hearing that from someone’s mouth? How do you know it’s a demon speaking? Would you be scared? What does it mean? From the vantage point of standing behind Luke peering around him we can marvel at Jesus at what is happening. The signs Jesus does – the liberating Jesus does – whether in public or privately in Simon’s home emphasise what Jesus said in the Nazareth synagogue – that he has come to set the captives free.

Free? Free for what? To go about their lives as if nothing ever happened? That’s what happens when we go to the doctor’s surgery – we go there when we want something fixed so we can live well again as we wish. And it is the same with a vending machine God. In fact if we think the key thing in the Gospel today are Jesus’ signs and wonders then for many people Jesus remains just a one-wonder-wonder! If you’ve been set free by Jesus, why hang around him? You’re free! Of course you might want to keep tabs on Jesus – get his phone number so to speak – so that you can go back to him for more help if needed but you and Jesus don’t have to be close friends here at all.

And that, of course, is humanity’s approach to heavenly help – thank you, of course, and how can we contact you again? Our human nature wants God’s blessings rather than the ‘Blesser’ – God himself.

And we can sense that Jesus’ goal is relational. He wants people to know God and his kingdom. And Jesus doesn’t quote the past teachers of Jewish law – he’s more direct – ‘You’ve heard it said but I say to you’ sort of thing – and his words have power – are listened to – because of the signs he does – and those who hear him hear ‘authority and power’. He rebukes demons and fevers alike. Whatever is happening isn’t mechanical but relational. Words create relationships. Jesus’ powerful words create relationships with people and they hold people close to Jesus because they have power and authority – Jesus said so – and in our text the people might point to the signs as evidence that a relationship with Jesus is God’s intention for people. His words are also the ultimate power and when he commands are obeyed as demons and fevers know.

We have no idea whether Jesus healed everyone in Capernaum – probably not – and the people want him to stay – open your surgery, we’ll come when we need you – but Jesus clearly states his intention, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent” (Luke 4:43). Jesus is on about words and any focus on the signs and wonders must be very careful that they are not about the effects of the words rather than the speaker of the words. That is the way of magic – the right words are more important than the speaker. However faith while very interested in the words is also very interested in who is speaking and the relationship between speaker and hearer.

We live a long time after Jesus walked on Earth and Capernaum is not ‘down the road’ yet Jesus and his words are central for us and for his followers and are needed by the whole world because yes, they have power and authority – one day every knee in heaven, on Earth, and under the earth will bow before Jesus and say that he is Lord – and behind that power and authority is purpose – and God’s purpose is that we should live with him now in this world with faith and meaning and with confidence and purpose, and so discover a powerful way to live. But this power is not necessarily the power of the miracle – happens once and then ‘back to work’ the next day – no, this is the power of a relationship that is forever faithful towards us in this world of trouble.

Paul described this powerful way of living no matter what the world throws at us in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians, 7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh (2 Corinthians 4:7-11 ESV).

Jesus continues to speak his good news to us and bring the Kingdom of God to us through his absolution, through Baptism, through Holy Communion, and through his words in sermon, liturgy, and song. These words still have power and authority and Jesus’ purpose is still so that we may live with him, following him, rather than independently of him. Jesus establishes a relationship with us and then all we do in our lives, in our words and deeds can be seen in response to him. We’re still us, individually us, still responsible for our behaviour but we’re not just ‘us’ – me, by myself – for the follower of Jesus wants him to keep speaking the good news of the kingdom so that we can live each day with meaning and purpose and look into the future with confidence and not be afraid. Is that what we imagine when we’re here?

Bible References

  • Luke 4:31 - 44