Speaking Truth to Evil

 “They 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, throwing him into convulsions 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” (Mark 1:21-28).

When I first moved to Dallas to attend seminary, I needed a job. I noticed a neighborhood restaurant was hiring, so I interviewed to serve as a waiter. I had no experience at this, but was hired anyway. My first several shifts were spent shadowing a fully trained waiter. He or she would approach the table, introduce the two of us, take orders, turn them in to the kitchen, and so on. I never spoke. It was my responsibility to watch, listen, and learn. Over time, I began to work on my own, and then trained a few newbies myself. We used a similar model when I was an intern in a local school or congregation: I was new, so I was not responsible for lesson planning or leading public worship. I would have a few tasks, but mostly at the beginning I was expected to learn. Then I would get the opportunity to lead. We use a similar model in church leadership. The leader leads, but also, and perhaps more importantly, trains and develops new leaders.

As we wrap up our Beginnings series over the next three Sundays, we will assume the role of trainee or intern. Jesus has called six disciples so follow: Philip, Nathaniel, Simon, Andrew, John and James. He has given them no instructions. As Jesus’ public ministry begins, they are expected to watch and learn. They barely even show up in the scriptures of the next three Sundays. They are present, but they are nearly invisible. This is the posture we will take as well. So I have in my mind a visual of the disciples with clipboards and pencils at the ready. I have mine.

Jesus often showed up at the local synagogue to be a guest teacher. In his day, rabbis/teachers were not assigned to a local congregation, much as they are today. The central focus of Jewish worship was still the Temple in Jerusalem-- but by Jesus’ time, local synagogues served as a local connection to the Temple worship system. Pilgrims would journey to Jerusalem for certain festivals a few times a year, but most regular, weekly worship happened in the synagogue. In today’s text Jesus is teaching at Capernaum, and the congregation is amazed by what they hear. He speaks as one with authority. In the middle of his lesson, Jesus is accosted by a demon-possessed person. The demon speaks directly to Jesus: “What have you to do with us? You are the Holy One of God and have come to expel us!” No one is really surprised by this; it was a common occurrence. In fact, in the Gospel of Mark, the shortest of the four Gospels, Jesus performs similar exorcisms four or five times-- and even refers to other teachers who do the same.

“Silence,” Jesus demands, and the demonic spirit leaves the tormented person. Again, the congregation, and presumably, our silent, clipboard and pencil holding disciples, are amazed: “What kind of authoritative teaching is this, that even the demons obey him?” Then the narrator ends the scene by saying everyone was gossipping about the episode across the entire region. Yeah, I guess so! Jesus certainly would have been trending on Twitter that day: #eventhedemons #allauthority #teenageeyeroll

So here we are: clipboards and pencils working hard: recording our observations, writing questions to be asked later (there will be many), perhaps texting professors asking why we were never taught or exposed to such situations before. Let’s recap the last few weeks to help bring us all up to speed:

  1. Jesus is baptized in the wilderness by John. A voice from heaven says to him, “You are my Son, the Beloved. In you I find joy.” 

  2. The Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus at his baptism and alights/remains on him

  3. Jesus announces the kin-dom of God, as opposed to the earthly power structures, is breaking into our world

  4. After his temptation in the wilderness, he calls his first disciples: Follow me. Follow me and I will show you how to fish for people.

  5. Even though they have no idea who Jesus is and what he is about, the disciples drop their nets, even abandoning Pops in the boat, and follow.

What’s going on in Capernaum? What captures people’s attention is they perceive an authoritative teaching in their presence they have never experienced before. No one knows anything about the nature of Jesus: not the disciples, not the worshippers that Saturday morning. As far as they know, he is just another itinerant rabbi. Even the voice from the heavens, speaking at Jesus’ baptism, whispers only to Jesus: “You are my Son…” Only Jesus himself, John the Baptist, and you and I, the readers of the Gospel, know exactly who Jesus is: he is God’s anointed Messiah, baptized in the Spirit, God’s own Son. But now, in the synagogue, another party recognizes Jesus: the unclean/evil spirit inhabiting a stranger’s body shouts Jesus’ identity to everyone.

Jesus’ response? No debate. No incantations. Two commands: “Silence!,” closely followed by, “Come out of him!” Jesus’ voice makes the healing happen. Jesus’ voice delivers the authority missing from other teachers. This is the same voice that brought about the creation recorded in Genesis 1. God speaks order into chaos, separating violent waters, bringing life upon the earth, sharing the ongoing work of creation with the zenith of the created order, humanity, made in God’s own image. The voice speaking to Jesus from the heavens at this baptism now proceeds from Jesus’ own mouth, bringing order into the chaotic evil of the room.

That voice sounds familiar to the congregants; not because any of them were present at the creation of the word, but because in worship they regularly sang the words of Psalm 29 from their hymnal: 

The voice of the Lord is over the waters;

   the God of glory thunders,

   the Lord, over mighty waters.

The voice of the Lord is powerful;

   the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;

   the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.

He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,

   and Sirion like a young wild ox.

The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.

The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;

   the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,

   and strips the forest bare;

   and in his temple all say, ‘Glory!’

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;

   the Lord sits enthroned as king for ever.

May the Lord give strength to his people!

   May the Lord bless his people with peace!

Whereas the Holy Spirit alighted upon Jesus, anointing him with God’s power, and remained on him, the unclean spirit, the unwelcome guest in worship, is expelled and runs away. This is the nature of Jesus’ authority: because he is God incarnate, he speaks and acts as God. And the evil of the world runs away.

This past week marked the 76th anniversary of the liberation at the concentration camp at Auschwitz. More than 1.1 million innocents, all of whom made in God’s own image, were murdered by others, also made in the image of God. Many religious leaders marked the occasion by issuing prayers and proclamations against evil and hatred, promising to never forget the names of the more than six million murdered by the Nazis, as well as victims of genocide in every place and time.

But unfortunately we know the hatred of others is not something that is found only in our history books. I heard the same sentiment of the demon in Capernaum in white nationalists gathered in Charlottesville in 2017: “You have come to destroy us” is very similar to, “You will not replace us,” an anti Semitic chant of the Nazis echoed in Virginia. When rioters stormed the Capitol Building in Washington DC earlier this month, several were seen wearing shirts denying or extoling the Holocaust. God’s voice brought order out of chaos and light out of darkness; Jesus’ voice in Mark expelled evil. The disciples are silently watching the narrative unfold, but you and I cannot stand back and keep quiet. As the psalmist prays, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart

   be acceptable to you,

   O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

At a recent roundtable event discussing the danger of rising Christian nationalism, many supporters of which were active in Charlottesville and DC, presiding Bishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal Church in America quoted the Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr.: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” He went on to say, “We must counter these negative perversions of Christianity and of our humanity. We must counter them with an affirmative, positive way of being Christian. “Christianity must recenter itself on the teachings, the example and the spirit of Jesus of Nazareth.”

This litany is produced by the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ). It is designed for use by Christians in a worship setting on or around Holocaust Memorial Day. 

Called to be a light: A litany

When faced with religious discrimination,

Jesus calls us to be a light shining in the darkness.

When faced with a global pandemic that threatens our wellbeing,

Jesus calls us to be a light shining in the darkness.

When faced with the darkness of shame and rejection,

Jesus calls us to be a light shining in the darkness.

When faced with human beings not being treated in a dignified manner,

Jesus calls us to be a light shining in the darkness.

When faced with discrimination for 'being different',

Jesus calls us to be a light shining in the darkness.

When faced with injustices caused in the name of religion,

Jesus calls us to be a light shining in the darkness.

When faced with people who are unable to live in their own countries and


Jesus calls us to be a light shining in the darkness.

When faced with a lack of generosity towards refugees and migrants,

Jesus calls us to be a light shining in the darkness.

When faced with genocide,

Jesus calls us to be a light shining in the darkness.

When faced with denial of the Holocaust,

Jesus calls us to be a light shining in the darkness.

We look to the light of Jesus, so that as we reflect his light in the

world, it is filled with the harvest of his good works.


The disciples silently take in the scene in the synagogue, watching, learning, questioning, wondering. But you and I are in a different place than they. Jesus is still a mysterious presence to them, a bridge from their former lives and routines leading toward a new reality. We know who Jesus is. We have heard his voice of justice and mercy. We have seen his example of forgiveness and welcome. By God’s grace, the Spirit has alighted upon us at our baptism, ordaining each of us with gifts for ministry and a voice to speak the truth and proclaim God’s promised reality. As the news of Jesus’ actions in the synagogue spread quickly through the region, may our voices for God’s justice, inclusion, and radical welcome of all be heard throughout our troubled nation.

Let us pray.

God of love, on this day we pray for the victims of the Holocaust and of

genocides in other parts of the world. We pray that you send your light on all

who lost loved ones. We pray that you help us hear the words of survivors.

We pray that the names of all victims will never be forgotten, but will be

remembered by us and by those who come after us. We pray that our world

will resist evil and intolerance, so that we can all live together in peace and

prosperity. And we pray that you will help us be the light in the darkness. 

- Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ) https://ccj.org.uk/