4th Sunday OT B ~ Dr. Susan McGurgan "Sabbath Morning in Capernaum"


It is Sabbath morning in Capernaum,

and the smell of last night’s catch

still lingers on the breeze

and rises from the boats now anchored along the shore.


Observant Jews, travelling on the Via Maris,

the road connecting Damascus in the north

and Egypt in the south,

have stopped for the day—

the prosperous

settled in the comfort of a roadside inn;

the poor

huddled under trees

or sheltered beside a stone wall.

On this holy day,

even the beasts lower their burdens,

bow down,

and take their rest.


It is Sabbath morning in Capernaum,

and the elders of the synagogue

place their shawls carefully across their shoulders

and prepare for the scribes

to read the scrolls of Moses and the Prophets,

and interpret their meaning for the community.

It is Sabbath morning in Capernaum,

and a working man,

born in Bethlehem,

raised in Nazareth,

blessed in the Jordan,

tested in the wilderness,

stretches out his calloused hand to grasp the threads

of his true work--

launching his Father’s mission

in a village that would become his own.


It is Sabbath morning in Capernaum,

and despite the impression of quiet peace,

unseen forces churn beneath the surface.

Despite the air of calm,

unclean spirits are on the prowl—

binding,

manifesting,

claiming,

defiling,

piercing the air with screams,

occupying real estate and realities,

burrowing deep to establish a home,

even in the presence of the Holy.

It is Sabbath morning in Capernaum

and demons are loose in the Synagogue.


What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?

Have you come to destroy us?


The unclean spirit shouts boldly,

confidently,

as if

It

and the Man

are one.

Co-joined.

Inseparable.

United.

The unclean spirit speaks as if

the man has already been consumed.

Dissolved.

Devoured.

We...

Us...


But, Jesus immediately rejects this claim,

quick to make a distinction between the man

and the spirit that torments him.

Yes, the unclean spirit is part of the man’s reality.

It damaged his body,

affected his relationships,

and warped his life in countless painful ways--

but it cannot consume his humanity

and it will not destroy his soul.


Quiet!

Come out of him!

In one of his first acts of public ministry,

Jesus boldly confronts the evil that seeks to harm us.


The people of Capernaum see Jesus

as the worker with the calloused hands,

the son of Mary,

the son of Joseph—

an ordinary man from an ordinary town—

a man who teaches with rare authority,

but a man, nonetheless.


In a moment of stunning clarity, however,

the unclean spirit sees what they cannot—or will not—see.

The spirit sees Christ, the Cosmic healer,

the Lord of Spirits,

the Holy One.

The Unclean Spirit sees that God is loose in the Synagogue, too.


In this powerful moment, Jesus teaches God's Word,

but not as a scholar,

or a scribe,

or the student of a famous rabbi.

He speaks with authority,

unlike any authority they have yet to see or hear.

Jesus evokes no higher power--

calls on no other name.

Instead, Jesus teaches and casts out

on his own authority.

He commands

and spirits obey.

He speaks

and the enslaved are free.

It is Sabbath morning in Capernaum,

and in Cincinnati,

and Borger and South Bend and Okarche and Bogata and Shengyou.

It is Sabbath morning

and in the clatter and hum of a busy life,

in the journeys of pilgrims sheltered in the shadow of stone walls,

in the waiting silence of holy places and holy people,

Demons and unclean spirits

and caged wild things

wait, too.


They appear under many names, these demons:

Illness, despair, depression, addiction, sin, psychosis, traumatic stress, dangerous memories.

Left unchallenged,

these unclean spirits would devour us.

Deny our humanity.

Steal our ability to love and laugh.


Yet, every Sabbath morning,

Every. Single. Morning.

In every time and every place and every circumstance,

the One with calloused hands

reaches out,

and grasps His mission anew.

He stands ready to cast out.

Ready to command.

Ready to heal.

Ready to uncage, unwrap, unbind.

Ready to open up tombs

and call us forth into the light.


His authority rebukes every evil that plagues us—

reminds us that we are always more

than the sum of our sins.

Reminds us that we are not our demons,

not our addictions,

not our mental illness,

our fears,

our failures.

We are not our scars,

no matter how deeply they cut;

no matter how disfiguring they may be.

We are not the chains that bind us

or the cages that imprison us.


His authority claims us for something more.

Something bigger.

His authority empowers us to sing songs

sweeter and louder and more enduring

than the sound of our demons,

shrieking in the night.


Yes, it is Sabbath morning in Capernaum,

and everything has changed.





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