Speaking with Authority

A Faith from the Margins to the Web Bible Study

Epiphany 4, Year B

Bible Study Contributors:  Tom and Elaine
Reflection by Sarah

Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Mark 1:21-28

Jesus and his disciples went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “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 the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

Immersing in something like Faith from the Margins to the Web requires a lot of thought, and a lot of reflection.  One of the reflections I’ve had during this process is just how much courage it takes to live into Jesus’ teachings, especially the ones that stand counter to what we socially think of as the way things are “supposed to be.”

In this week’s Gospel, Jesus speaks with authority and it astounds those in the Temple.  Sometimes, in engaging this project, I am likewise astounded by the way God speaks through people in ways that allow glimpses of good news to emerge, even from lessons that can seem dark and despairing.

This week’s bible study circled back around many stories of darkness and despair.  As I listened to the interview, I realized that passing them along as a whole wasn’t where the good news was to be found.  Instead, like a glimmer of hope in the midst of a seemingly impossible situation, I heard this exchange:

“Imagine that if you lived your whole life with a condition, and socially people talked about you and said that you were crazy, or that you had a devil. After a while, you’d start to believe it.”

“Do you think that’s still true today?” asked Elaine, “that when people are told what others think from the outside, they tend to believe that’s who they are?”

“Sure” said Tom. “Every day I meet people who believe about themselves only what others think about them.”

It reminded me of the social psychology lessons that I teach my students.  Back in the early 20th Century, Charles Horton Cooley began to write about the concept of the “Looking Glass Self,” an idea further expanded upon by Erving Goffman in his book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.  It is a book that I remember vividly, even from my own first reading of it when I myself was in college.  These twentieth-century symbolic interactionists helped shape our understanding about how social constructions of who we are can shape our identity and self-image.  In other words, our self-image isn’t a creation of our own minds.  If we are told repeatedly that we are a reflection of the strengths others see in us, we will begin to believe it.  If we are told repeatedly that we are all of our flaws and weaknesses, we will come to believe that instead.  We begin to live into the social roles that others cast for us.  To the symbolic interactionists, we see ourselves by what is reflected back to us from the society in which we live.

Think about that.  Really think about it.

What does the society in which we live say about people who live on the social margins of this world?  What does society reflect back about people who experience poverty, who are hungry, who rely on the compassion of strangers?  What are the language, words and labels that society places what our Gospel lessons might call, “the least of these?”  How is that reflected in our language, or in the presumptions of our own communities, neighborhoods and congregations?

In contrast, how does God see people?

We get some insight about that in this Gospel, as Jesus clearly sees the person and is not blinded by the evil that clouds the vision of others and even screams out in his own face.  Jesus enacts healing toward a person, a man who is being held hostage by the forces of evil defining how others see him.  In this story, the man gets to be free, to be healed, to be wholly human again through Jesus’ authority.

Now THAT is a Gospel lesson that truly is an act of radical grace.

Every week here on Faith from the Margins to the Web, we get to experience some of that radical good news from the people and places that we might least expect, too.  The voices through which God speaks are not always the faces we might expect, and sometimes the stories meander to places we’d rather not tread.  But always, God is present with us and in each person.  Always, there is Good News revealed in each encounter, whether through the depth and breadth of conversation or, as happened today, in a quiet epiphany.

May the light of Christ shine brightly today, as we come to see each other through the light and love in which God sees us.

epiphany window

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