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Archive for March, 2019

As Jesus’ ministry gathers steam in Luke’s telling, we glimpse the drawing up of battle lines in the three-times-repeated memory that Jesus rebuked a collection of enslaving adversaries.

And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent and come out of him!’ And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm. And they were all amazed and said to one another, ‘What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!’ (Luke 4:33–36 ESV)

The verb that abbreviates Jesus’ belligerent command over the ‘unclean demon’ that holds this unnamed man in bondage is ε͗πιτιμάω (traditionally, to rebuke), supplemented in the people’s astonished after-commentary by ε͗πιτάσσω (usually, to command). As mentioned, Luke deploys ε͗πιτιμάω three times in close proximity, two of them of loud confrontations with demons reluctant to leave their hosts and once of Jesus’ command that an incapacitating fever should leave Simon’s mother-in-law.

And he arose and left the synagogue and entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was ill with a high fever, and they appealed to him on her behalf. And he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her, and immediately she rose and began to serve them.

Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them. And demons also came out of many, crying, ‘You are the Son of God!’ But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ. (Luke 4:38–41 ESV)

In those who heard Jesus teach and observed his stern command over enslaving powers that is abbreviated by this word, it elicited recognition of Jesus’ authority (ε͗ξουσία; 4.32 of his teaching, 4.37 of his forcing the demon to depart).

By means of this flurry of words, we are meant to understand a powerful confrontation between Jesus, on the one hand, and enslaving tyrants on the other. The latter may be the difficult-to-describe phenomena that the text routinely calls demons or the hot fever whose departure allowed the afflicted woman to resume her customary habit of serving her guests

It is worth noting the uneasy cohabitation of accommodating truth and religion, on the one hand, and madness and religion on the other. Jesus’ teaching on the sabbath astonished by virtue of its authority, in implicit contrast with more customary sabbath instruction that appears to have lacked this. And Luke locates the man with ‘the spirit of an unclean demon’ precisely ‘in the synagogue’ at Capernaum.

Luke describes Jesus as the sworn enemy of those powers that imprison human beings in a cage of madness, destructive self-absorption, and enervating disease. It is possible that his narrative subtly means to include ‘teaching without authority’ among this roster of enslaving enemies of the newly arrived Jesus.

More, Jesus represents the front edge of a campaign to banish these from human experience.

In the passage at hand, such powers simply leave (έξέρχομαι, ἀφίημι), though often with a loud and frightening pout as they go, as though to signal that ‘This is not over …’.

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild?

Not so much.

 

 

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There is a fruitful agony, a suffering that bears life rather than merely pushing open the door to death. Jesus’ agony was of this kind, in spades we might say in retrospect and from the angle of hope’s full flowering.

Yet the moment left its early evidences as well.

And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him.

And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull). (Mark 15:20–22 ESV)

As many have noted, Mark’s narrative mentions two names that don’t much illuminate the crisis of the moment: Alexander and Rufus.

The story as it’s told reads well as an indicator that Alexander and Rufus were members of the community of Jesus’ followers in which Mark and Peter, his apparent source, nourished the memory.

Simon of Cyrene was just a passerby, forced by uniformed Romans with little concern for local courtesies to carry their murder weapon when their victim became too exhausted to carry the tool of his own death. There was absolutely nothing premeditated about it. If the Romans had not grabbed Simon, they would have press-ganged someone else. He just happened to be ‘coming in from the country’ when the little drama of Jesus’ execution was taking place.

Simon was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

So it would appear.

Yet the little mention that he was the father of Alexander and Rufus, two men whom Mark’s readers in his community of followers of Jesus were expected to recognize, suggest that there was more in play than bad luck. Something happened to Simon by the time he had dragged the lumber of Jesus’ murdering to Golgotha. If it did not happen in the moment, then perhaps shortly thereafter.

That something was passed on to Simon’s children, whose names became household names among the daughters and sons of this new faith, names that could be mentioned familiarly with no special elaboration.

As Jesus stumbled his final steps to Golgotha, faith’s seed was already finding fertile soil in the heart of a bad-luck farmer who had showed up at the wrong time.

As my wife likes to abbreviate such complexities, ‘That’s how God works.’

Things are seldom as they appear.

 

 

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