Meditation on Mark 1:21-28
Pastor Karen Crawford
The Presbyterian Church, 142 N. 4th St. Coshocton, OH 43812
Jan. 31, 2021
An important holiday is coming up this week! No, I’m not talking about the Super Bowl! Groundhog Day is Feb. 2!
Do you have any special plans? Me, neither! But I may watch that wonderful 1993 movie of the same name starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell.
In April last year, during what would turn out to be the early days of the pandemic, Megan Garber of The Atlantic magazine wrote a story titled, “Groundhog Day Was a Horror Movie All Along.” The “existential comedy Groundhog Day”(had) become a meme and metaphor for this moment,” she said. In February 2020, Jeep ran an ad during the Super Bowl, “with the film’s most memorable song, Sonny and Cher’s I Got You Babe as the soundtrack.” The ad “featured Bill Murray reprising the role of Phil Connors, the misanthropic weatherman who relives the same day (and relives it, and relives it, and relives it).” Unlike the movie, the “commercial Murray delighted in the repetition. Because this time around, he faced his monotonous eternity as the owner of a Jeep.” A month later, Jeep would revise its ad with a more somber opening text, “We understand that every day is starting to seem the same.” Then it flashes briefly to Murray waking—again—at 6 a.m. I Got You Babe. “Stay home. Stay healthy,” is the concluding message. “When this is all over, the trails will be waiting. Jeep: #StayOffTheRoad.”
Groundhog Day is one my favorite movies of the 1990s—and I am hoping that it may become a meme and metaphor for this moment for a different reason than the monotony of reliving the same day in our isolation during the pandemic. The true message of Groundhog Day is about having a change of heart. We watch Phil Connor’s transformation as he relives, relives, and relives Groundhog Day in the small, Western Pennsylvania town of Punxsutawney. This is the fourth year in a row for weatherman Phil Connor’s reporting on the festivities surrounding Phil the groundhog at Gobbler’s Knob, waiting to see if he sees his shadow—and how many more weeks of winter that will mean.
Phil, from the big city of Pittsburgh, is an ambitious man who thinks only of his own desires, status and happiness. He orders around his cameraman, Larry, and producer, Rita, played by Andie MacDowell, referring to himself as “the talent.” But after a snowstorm delays their departure, and the days begin to repeat themselves, he will become someone who begins to notice, value and care for the people of the small town. Faced with the rare gift of knowing what’s going to happen each day, he gradually begins to respond to the situation differently. Rather than using the knowledge of what is going to happen for his own personal gain, which he does at first, he uses the knowledge to help others, anticipating their needs and being there, at that moment, to meet them. The man who formerly mocked, belittled, and abused people begins to form authentic relationships. He nurtures his own creativity, taking piano lessons and learning to make ice sculptures with a chain saw.
The movie ends when Phil is a kinder, gentler, more patient, more human, human being. A new day dawns. No more I Got You Babe!
Our gospel reading in Mark offers a view of a day in the life of Jesus and his newly called disciples—ex-fishermen who dropped their nets to follow him. The first place they go is to a synagogue in the fishing village of Capernaum or “village of comfort” in Hebrew. The hometown for about 1,500 residents, including Levi the tax collector, is on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. The gospel of Matthew tells us that Jesus, at the beginning of his ministry, left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum. Simon (Peter) and Andrew also lived in Capernaum; Jesus will visit their home following the sermon in the synagogue, when Jesus reveals his exousia, Greek for authority or power. Signs and wonders will continue at Simon Peter’s home where Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law, who is in bed with a fever. With no worry of contagion, Jesus takes the sick woman by the hand, lifts her up, and the fever leaves her. She begins to serve them. I can imagine her preparing a meal.
That evening, at sunset, the whole city gathers around their front door, bringing those who are sick with various diseases or possessed by demons. Jesus cures many of them, but does not permit the demons to speak and share his identity.
This is different than what happens at the synagogue earlier that day, when a man with an unclean spirit interrupts his preaching and teaching by shouting at him, revealing that the demons know who Jesus is—and they know his authority or exousia over them. This brings to mind Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s powerful prayer, “Goodness is stronger than evil; Love is stronger than hate; Light is stronger than darkness; Life is stronger than death; Victory is ours through Him who loves us.”
“What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” the unclean spirit cries out. “Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”
Jesus rebukes the unclean spirit, telling it to be quiet and come out of the man and it does—crying out with a loud voice. While we have no idea what Jesus said that day in his first sermon in the Capernaum synagogue, we know the congregation saw his exousia—his power and authority, unlike the scribes.
This same exousia will stir the scribes who come down from Jerusalem in Mark 3 to say, “He has a Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” Jesus confronts them, speaking in parables, but still the scribes do not understand, nor do the people. His family hears of how he has been using his exousia to heal and cast out demons, and they come to “restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’”
But on this day in the synagogue in Capernaum, the people are amazed that he “commands the unclean spirits and they obey him.” His fame begins to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee. Something is different about Jesus of Nazareth.
The people keep asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with exousia!”
This power that Christ has received from God is offered to all who love and serve him. This power brings insight and understanding, humbling us as we see ourselves as we really are and who Christ our Savior is for us. We can trust in the one who has the power—the exousia—to make us more like Him, filling us with Himself.
Ephesians 1:18-23 says, “… with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his exousia (power) for us who believe, according to the working of his great exousia. God put this exousia to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and exousia and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”
I invite us now to consider the state of our hearts. Do you find yourself expressing anger and frustration more frequently than before the pandemic? What impurities have we allowed to come and possess us—impurities that bring us down, discourage us, keep us anxious and afraid, and hurt our witness for the Lord? Can people tell that we are grateful for all God has done for us—or have we lost our attitude of gratitude?
We live in a fallen world, dear friends, where there is a spiritual battle going on. We can’t fight this battle for our hearts and minds alone. We need the Lord. Ephesians 6:11-12 tells us, “Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
You who feel as if you are living in a perpetual Groundhog Day, miserable and powerless to change your life, the problem isn’t what’s going on around us. The problem, as it was for Phil the weatherman, is with our hearts.
I believe that the Lord allows us to go through the same struggles and temptations until we finally learn the lesson God desires to teach us. Friends, God is with us in our trials, and we have the power to respond as Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, would do.
Let us turn to the One whose power and authority, whose exousia, is unlike any ancient or modern-day scribes. The demons know that the Holy One of God is the only one who can destroy the cosmic powers of this present darkness. Why are we holding back when we can begin the dawn of a new day, the first day of our new lives?
No more I Got You Babe.
Christ is calling us now. Will you follow him? We will all be kinder, gentler, more patient, more human, human beings, with Christ’s help. With a word, the Lord who loves us eternally and unconditionally will cleanse us and set us free from all iniquity.
I leave you with the words of Archbishop Tutu:
“Goodness is stronger than evil; Love is stronger than hate; Light is stronger than darkness; Life is stronger than death; Victory is ours through Him who loves us.”
Let us pray.
Holy One of God, thank you for your goodness, love, light and our new life that begins here, in this world, from the moment we first believe. Thank you for the promise of our victory over sin and death through Your Son. Lord, forgive us for allowing impurities to come into our hearts and possess and oppress us. Cleanse us from all iniquity. Remove any wicked way within us, as the psalmist prays, and lead us in the way of everlasting. Help us to be your grateful children, witnessing to our faith through our love and service. Make us kinder, gentler, more patient, more human, human beings, in the image of Your Son, our Savior, Redeemer, and Lord. In His name we pray. Amen.