•Job 7: 1-4, 6-7 * 1 Cor 9: 16-19, 22-23 * Mark 1: 29-39•
Scripture Readings: Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The original Latin word –“saeculum” means “the world.” We translate the world as “secular.” Jesus lived in the “saeculum” — the real world. Since my days as a theological student preparing for ordination as a “diocesan priest,” I have been captivated by the word “secular.” As “diocesan” or “secular” priests we are not bound by monastic vows, lifestyle or rules. We are ordained to live with and among people in the “real world.” For 54 years I have tried to live as a “secular priest” in the best sense of the word.
I begin with all of that because almost all academics today agree that a great shift is transforming Western society. We live in a “secular age.” Stated simplistically, this “secular age” is this.
In the 16th century it was virtually impossible not to believe in God with all the implications of such belief.
The peers of Jesus, continuing on through our ancestors into the 20th century, lived in a world of spirits and demons. Violence was pervasive. Mark wrote his gospel for his peers who believed such spirits and demons ruled the world and were the source of violence and suffering. Mark takes his audience straight into that world of spirits and demons and presents Jesus to us, not only as the messenger of “the kingdom of God,” but as one confronting and casting out the spirits and demons that rule the world. The divinity – “God,” was considered “the ultimate guarantee that good would triumph or at least hold the forces of darkness at bay.” (Taylor) So Mark is telling us that Jesus is Lord of the entire natural world. He is ruler of the Universe.
The discoveries and influence of modern science moved us to a new understanding of the cosmos and what it is to be human. Now in the 21st century our worldview has shifted. Because we have a better understanding of human physiology and live healthier lives, we no longer live in a world of spirits and demons. For our peers, not believing in a Gracious Mystery we name God is not only easy, but also inescapable. For many of our peers it is easy to ignore or dismiss Marks Jesus. That is the “secular age” in which we live.
For those of us living in this “secular age,” spirits and demons are no longer part of our worldview. This makes it difficult for us to hear and understand texts from the Christian bible.
The first chapter of Mark’s gospel provides an example. Last week in the synagogue of Capernaum, “a man with an unclean spirit cried out.” “Jesus rebuked him. . . the unclean spirit convulsed him and came out of him.” In today’s text “Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever. Jesus helped her up.” “Jesus cured many who were sick with various diseases and drove out many demons.” Next week “a beggar asks to be made clean” and “was made clean.”
Today the “kingdom of violence” prospers. Here are some examples. After 13 years of continuous war, our nation now considers another war against the “Islamic State.” Our nuclear arsenal is being modernized. We continue to support Israel despite that nation’s egregious violations of U.N. resolutions. Thousands of our citizens are in prison, too many in solitary confinement. The imbalance of wealth in our nation increases. It becomes increasingly clear that climate change poses imminent danger to the world. Ironically, this “secular age” enables the demonic powers to be more powerful than ever.
So Mark’s message is very relevant. God does not endorse holy wars or just wars or religions of violence. The “reign of God,” – “God’s new reality” announced and demonstrated by Jesus means the complete and definitive elimination of the demonic – every form of violence between individuals and nations.
Please ponder and absorb Mark’s Jesus. He “went out to the nearby villages, preaching and driving out demons.” “He went out.” The great work of the gospel — overcoming “the kingdom of violence,” happens in the world, not in our churches. Out there – in the “saeculum,” is where the gospel is needed. The gospel becomes sterile if we simply hold it inside or treat it as a nice story. The gospel needs to be lived, carried out from here, taken into the world, and blended into economics, business, government and politics. It is our privilege and our task to do so.