4th Sunday after the Epiphany

February 3, 2019


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)

24 hours in the life of Jesus – that’s what our gospel for today reveals. His work was beginning after his baptism, return to and rejection from Nazareth, and then into Capernaum and the surrounding areas. The people are not sure who he is – “What is this teaching?” – but they want more of what he’s providing – healing and casting out of demons. The demons, however, know very well who Jesus was – their destroyer – “Have you come to destroy us?” – because Jesus is “the holy one of God”. But Jesus orders their silence – no need to further stir a crowd who were sensing a heavenly vending machine in their midst.

We have the crowd scenes – in the synagogue and, after the sun had set on the Sabbath and people could move, the night ‘surgery’ when everyone turned up, and the next day in the wilderness, when the crowd actually tried to keep Jesus from leaving them. Luke also gives us the individual scene – with Peter’s mother-in-law – who is suffering and Jesus is asked to help and he goes to her – bends over her so we assume she’s lying in bed – possibly feeling awkward at this male presence – and Jesus rebukes – woa, seems harsh at first heartbeat – oh, not her but the fever. Jesus treats the fever as he does the demons, as he does the storm when the disciples were scared on the lake (Mark 4:39). As you would tell a constantly yapping or barking dog to ‘shut up’ – literally ‘be muzzled’ – so Jesus treats the forces of darkness that trap and enslave. Peter’s mother-in-law is healed – the dog stops yapping – the fever has left the building! – and we sense the miraculous nature of the event when she gets up and serves – no recuperation – and no snide jokes about a women’s place in the kitchen – the words ‘at once’ or ‘immediately’ speak to Jesus’ power and authority and not to gender social issues.

And the next morning the crowd don’t find Jesus in Capernaum but out of the precincts (Mark records that Jesus got up early to go and pray) and somehow they are aware that Jesus is leaving – no mobiles back then, sure he could – and did – make return visits – but that wasn’t the point – he was leaving them and they didn’t want that – they even tried to keep him from going – we’re not told how. However Jesus has his own agenda – he always has – never beholden to people or public opinion – he reveals why he is here on earth – to preach the good news of the Kingdom of God – not from a single spot – jump from the temple in Jerusalem and float to earth and get everyone to come to you – instead he makes the first move – he goes out to other towns because he was sent (άποστέλλειν) – he is God’s messenger (he’s more than that but the people then couldn’t and didn’t grasp what – only the demons truly knew) heading out into the world.

Sort of makes you tired just thinking about it! Was this Jesus’ lifestyle once he began his public ministry – crowds excited – more more – and then moving on? It’s almost like the TV show The Littlest Hobo from my childhood – off on another adventure next episode. We don’t know that Jesus healed everyone that night or that he spoke to everyone and gave them the good news of the Kingdom but he was not seduced by the people’s accolades nor dissuaded by their rejection – there is a sovereign quality about Jesus – doing what he wants here on earth.

And that’s a funny thought to me – to think of Jesus doing what he wants. Perhaps because ‘religion’ is my ‘work’, I subconsciously think of Jesus’ salvation as his work and wonder what he wants to do with any time off. He says he’s ‘sent’ – ok, by the Father – we can relate to that – people can give us orders all the time – but what does Jesus want to do when he’s not being sent? Dumb question. That’s the mystery we often can’t grasp but the truth that terrified the demons – God is on the world stage – wanting to be here to rescue, release, and set the captives free from sin, from sickness, and from Satan. We – people – quickly pick up on the effects – notably healing – in fact we can easily make such things signs of God’s favour – but Jesus reorients us to the good news – the Kingdom of God – God’s rule – it is here – because Jesus is here.

Here – through words, water, bread and wine – Jesus is the liturgist who brings us into the heavenly realm; he is the one who preaches himself not on the road to Emmaus but to us today; he gives new birth and feeds faith in him with himself – he is both priest and sacrifice – and the effects are happening: forgiveness and hope; strength to make amends, new starts; healing – in all forms.

And then Jesus goes out into the world with the ones he sends – those with the apostolic message – the Kingdom of God is still here – Jesus hasn’t gone away – He is risen! – and his love and care is for all people. He still rebukes that which enslaves and traps – but his love sets people free – inexplicably they are changed – healed – and have daily strength to work at their sanctification, further change as they walk in Jesus’ footsteps. And Jesus still wants to do this – make the first moves into people’s lives – he kills and he recreates – a new creation in Christ we say (2 Corinthians 5:17) – and he provides daily help and his presence each 24 hours of our lives. And the demons still know the truth.

Let us pray and work – sent out – so that more and more people know the truth of Jesus as well – and also be so amazed that they follow him the rest of their lives. Jesus wants to be with me?! Me??!! Wow!!

Bible References

  • Luke 4:31