RCL Year B Epiphany 4
Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 111; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; Saint Mark 1:21-28

In the Gospel today, Jesus performs an extraordinary healing. A man suffering from an unclean spirit is healed, and the man is restored to good health. That is extraordinary.

In the course of that extraordinary healing, the demon challenges Jesus: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?”[1] Literally, I am told, the Greek is: “What to you and to us?” The idea is that there is nothing in common between “us and you”—nothing in common between what is unclean and Jesus.

We have a saying, “One bad apple spoils the whole barrel.” The Jewish laws said essentially the same thing: touching an unclean person or thing made you unclean. The bad infects the good.

But Jesus turns this around. The Holy One from God redeems bad apples. The clean redeems the unclean. The man with the unclean spirit is healed. He is made whole. Jesus’ touch makes him clean. Jesus’ healing brings him from the outside to the inside.

At their best, parishes can perform this healing. With genuine welcome, with genuine welcome, a parish can grow and can grow by healing the people it welcomes.

The welcome has to be genuine, and it has to be Christ’s welcome. The welcome cannot be desperate. It cannot rise from the need for operating income. Christ welcomes everyone, whoever they are and whatever they’ve done.

Because “Everyone” includes new people with new ideas. “Everyone” includes those people who wish to be private. It includes the noisy children. It includes the people with unclean spirits. It includes the people who don’t wear the right clothes.

Just for fun, sit for ten minutes in a fast food restaurant or store, as they like to name themselves, and watch people go by. As you watch our fellow human beings go by, ask yourself, “Would this person receive Christ’s welcome at Good Shepherd?” You might be surprised with the results. To me the essence of the Gospel is to announce God’s forgiveness, God’s love, and God’s welcome to everyone God has made, for everyone God has made wears the flesh which Jesus took on in his birth at Bethlehem, the flesh that was nailed to the Cross, and the flesh he took into heaven. You and I wear Jesus’ flesh. The tough thing is to realize that everyone else does also.

If we don’t stand in the way, if our welcome isn’t in service of our operating budget, Jesus will heal the sick and will welcome everyone. Jesus Christ makes the unclean clean. Jesus Christ makes the sinful holy. Jesus Christ makes the outcast a member of a loving community. These miracles can happen right before our eyes. And we can grow at the same time.

[1] Saint Mark 1:24.