“What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?”
What a question! And what a challenge.
These are the first words spoken in this Sunday’s Gospel. They sound confrontational — and they are — and they come from a surprising source, a man with an unclean spirit in the synagogue.
But these words should hit close to home. They pose a defining question in this reading.
It’s a question that speaks, in many ways, for all of us.
Jesus, what have you to do with us? What do you want from us?
Why have you come here?
Scholars believe Mark’s account of Christ’s life was the first Gospel to be written, in around 70 AD — less than 40 years after the resurrection of Christ.
That would be like someone today writing about events in 1981 — my senior year of college. Trust me: That wasn’t as long ago as it seems.
The people who lived with Jesus, walked with him, listened to him, still had powerful memories of what took place. And those who were hearing about Jesus Christ for the first time all had the same question in their hearts:
What did it all mean?
What are we supposed to do?
What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?
Well, this reading from this Gospel offers an answer, and two things stand out right away.
First, he came into our world to teach. The setting is the synagogue at Capernaum. Jesus began his ministry in a familiar place, a sacred space, one steeped in Jewish tradition and devotion. There, the one who is The Word fulfilled and preached the word — doing it so powerfully that people marveled at his authority.
But second, he came into our world to heal.
He came to effect change. To convert hearts. To transform the world.
And he started by calling out what was unclean — and making a broken man once again whole.
“The one who brought peace to the troubled soul in Capernaum wants to bring that peace to every one of us.”
This is the first recorded miracle in Marks’ Gospel. It won’t be the last. Mark describes about 20 miracles and healings. They make up nearly a third of his Gospel. In fact, over the next two Sundays, we’ll hear Mark’s accounts of other miracles, one after another, all leading us into the sacred season of Lent.
These miraculous healings illustrate Christ’s power over our wounded world.
In 2021, it is a world wounded in so many ways — troubled by so many unclean spirits.
The spirit of hate and division. Of greed and pride.
There is the unclean spirit of violence and rage.
And, threaded throughout so much of it: a spirit of helplessness and despair.
Last week, The New York Times reported on an alarming rise in suicides among teenagers who have spent much of the last year in lockdown. Too many young people just feel there is no hope. As a friend of mine once put it, many years ago: “When you’re young, you don’t understand that it doesn’t stay this way, that things change.”
Too many, I think, don’t understand that God is still at work in the world, and things will change, and that hope can and does triumph.
Yet, into this fallen world, haunted by destructive and unclean spirits, comes the son of God, bearing Good News of salvation. As the psalm before the Gospel reminded us, in an echo of Christmas: “In a land overshadowed by death, light has arisen.”
And so we cry out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus?”
In this first miracle of the first Gospel, Christ shows us. He comes to silence the unclean spirit, to restore wholeness and dignity and hope.
He comes to calm the anxious and release the imprisoned.
He comes to give strength to the weak.
To bring sight to the blind.
To help all of us who are lame find the strength to walk and follow the path the early Christians called “The Way” — the path of compassion and mercy and love.
What have you to do with us, Jesus?
The answer is, of course: everything.
Across the next two Sundays, as we continue Mark’s Gospel, we will hear more about Jesus the Healer, as he cures Peter’s mother and heals a leper. All of this prepares us for our own journey of healing, reconciliation and renewal as we enter the season of Lent.
I know, it sounds incredible. Some of us still haven’t put the Christmas lights away. But Ash Wednesday is coming!
It is never too soon to get ready. Begin here and now.
As we hold out our hands to receive the Body of Christ this morning, we hold them out as beggars asking for more than bread. We are asking for Jesus himself — for life, for healing and for hope. “What have you to do with me, Jesus?”
What can you do in my life?
Know this: the one who brought peace to the troubled soul in Capernaum wants to bring that peace to every one of us.
The great work Jesus began in that synagogue — teaching and healing and making what is broken whole — goes on today.
Pray for God’s grace to continue that work in our lives, our community, our world.
As he showed in Capernaum, he has much “to do with us”… if only we will let him.