The theme of my sermon today is trust. How often have you heard the expression ‘trust me, I am a doctor’. The doctor is asking you to have faith in her or his ability to heal you by advice and the recommendation of surgery if needed. It is up to you to determine whether you have sufficient trust in the doctor to agree with the recommendations made. If, in spite of your trust, there is malpractice, then you will suffer, and the doctor may be struck off the register.
So there is, in human affairs, of which this is one example, an element of risk involved in placing your trust in another. This is because we are frail humans all, liable to make mistakes and misjudge situations. In today’s world, with its fake news, fraud, scams and the ability to break into other people’s accounts to name but a few, it does seem that the risk is great and that trust is at a premium.
Was trust at a premium in the New Testament also? If we look at today’s Gospel reading, when Jesus, in the synagogue at Capernaum, rids a man of an unclean spirit, the authority with which he does this amazes the people and it marks the beginning of the spread of fame for Jesus that, as it is written ‘began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee’. The people, at this early stage of Mark’s Gospel, are not questioning the role of Jesus as healer. There is an element of trust here. So far, all is well but the seed of trouble ahead for Jesus is planted on that day.
Why should this be so on that particular day, known as the ‘Eventful Day’? Well, also present in the synagogue, as they routinely were, were the scribes whose task it was to interpret the Old Testament and teach its laws. This teaching rested on what they regarded as the authority of the Old Testament and this stood in direct opposition to the authority given to Jesus directly from God to drive out evil spirits. On this Eventful Day the scribes say nothing but not for long. If we move on to the second chapter of Mark’s Gospel when Jesus heals the paralytic man by the forgiveness of his sins, we hear the first rumble of thunder from the scribes: ‘why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone? On the Eventful Day, Jesus keeps the people on his side as ‘they were amazed and glorified God’ but the antagonism of the scribes towards his authority does not go away; it escalates to the point when he is condemned to death by the Jewish leaders and the people who have now also turned against him. Their failure to trust him is evident when Jesus returns to his hometown of Nazareth and the response there is who does he think he is, teaching in the synagogue words of wisdom – he is just the carpenter.
A complete breakdown of trust, you might say, in Jesus as the Son of God. A breakdown because none could see what the demons who possessed the man in Capernaum could see. They saw Jesus as enemy number one who had the power to destroy them as ‘the Holy One of God’. They wanted to go on existing by means of power and control over and within people and they knew that Jesus as the Son of God could break the man free of them and thereby rob them of their power and control.
As we know from Bible narratives, the Devil loves power and control. We have only to think of the temptation of Jesus in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke when the Devil offers Jesus the possession of all the kingdoms of the world, provided he worship him. The possession of people by demons, that are the Devil’s instruments, that control the speech and thought of the victim, is a recurrent theme of Mark’s Gospel. There is the man in chains in the tombs who howled and bruised himself until Jesus commanded the unclean spirit to come out of him. There is the healing of the boy with a spirit that makes him unable to speak and dashes him down.
The problem is that in his healing ministry, that was defeating the demonic purpose and offering instead the freedom of the Holy Spirit and the love of God, Jesus antagonized those around him which led to his death. People were not ready to receive this offering because they were steeped in the tradition of their ancestry and rites and rituals of their worship which was rooted in the Old Testament and not being adhered to in full by Jesus, as the parables make clear. They were suspicious of the new, as we can all be, and it was easy for them to dismiss Jesus as just another charismatic healer. As Rowan Williams expresses it in his book ‘Meeting God in Mark’ there were many such healers ‘wandering around the ancient Near East’. The Jewish leaders rejected Jesus’s healing ministry as ordained by God because they said that only God can forgive sins.
Thus it was that the miracles he performed, the healings and the forgiveness of sins that were all offerings of Divine love were rejected and nailed with Jesus to the Cross.
That is not, of course, the end of the story as Mark gives us the Good News of ultimate salvation which was the outcome of crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension to heaven, leaving the Disciples to go out and proclaim the Good News everywhere. If then, in spite of the failures in trust in our world today, we continue to trust in that salvation then there is hope for us all. If we stay with corrupt practices then trust will continue to be eroded and leave us ruled by fear rather than inhabiting the all-encompassing love of God.