Were I to ask, "What was Jesus' first miracle?" the vast majority of people would probably answer, "Turning water into wine at the Cana wedding reception." That's correct - if you're in John's gospel. But it's the wrong answer if you're reading the other three.
Students of Scripture understand that each evangelist uses Jesus' first miracle to set the theme of his gospel. There's a specific theological reason why John makes the water/wine miracle the "first of Jesus' signs." But since we're in Mark, not John, we'll leave the latter's theology for another commentary. Our task today is to find out why Mark's Jesus makes an exorcism his first miracle.
It's important to understand that at the time of Jesus demons were regarded as the source of most of the world's evils. They were not only responsible for moral evil, they were also given credit for lots of the everyday disasters and problems we humans face. If I, for instance, wake up with a cold, I presume at least three demons have invaded my body. (Readers of Luke's gospel should especially remember this when he mentions that Jesus cast seven demons from Mary Magdalene. That's not the evangelist's way of saying she was a morally evil person.) Here Mark gives us a glimpse of what his gospel's about by telling us that Jesus begins the first day of his public ministry by casting a demon from a possessed man during a Capernaum Sabbath synagogue service. When the about-to-be-expelled demon asks, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?" the obvious answer is, "Certainly!" That's not only the goal of Jesus' ministry, Mark presumes it's also the life-goal of all who commit themselves to carrying on Jesus' ministry. Like him, we should spend our lives ridding this world of as much evil as possible. Throughout the rest of his gospel, Mark will tell us how to go about achieving this goal. We're expected to do our best to have less evil - moral, physical, psychological - in the world when we die than existed when we were born.
Paul takes for granted that nothing should stand in our way of accomplishing this task, even marriage. "An unmarried man," he presumes, "is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord. But a married man is anxious about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and he is divided." We must remember that at this point of his ministry Paul's still expecting Jesus' Second Coming to happen any day. He never seems to have dealt with the question of someone living a full natural life unmarried. Besides, we can't overlook his disclaimer, "I am telling you this for your own benefit, not to impose a restraint upon you." Many reading this commentary would be the first to testify that they're far better able to tackle evil with the help of an intimate partner than if they tried to do it alone. Paul would certainly agree that, married or single, imitating Jesus is essential to our faith.
How do we know what things should be eradicated and how we're to go about it? That's where our Deuteronomy reading comes in. Throughout Scripture, the primary way of surfacing God's will is to surface and listen to the prophets in our midst. One of the Bible's worst curses is, "May you have no prophets." Just before the prophet Moses' death, Yahweh promises there'll always be a prophet for Yahweh's people. They'll not be left to wander in the dark.
Perhaps one of the greatest evils we have to get rid of is the belief that we don't have to listen to the prophets in our midst. Then again, how do we know who's a real prophet and who's a fake?
I feel another column coming on.