(for the Fourth Sunday After Epiphany, February 1, 2015)
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, NRSV).
Our passage sees Jesus continuing to proclaim the ‘kingdom of God’. We discovered something of this kingdom’s values in the calling of the four fishermen. We do well to expect to learn more as Jesus’ story unfolds!
Arriving in the city of Capernaum Jesus does nothing before the weekly sabbath gathering. Then he attends the synagogue meeting and finds himself with an audience. Jesus is seen as something of a teacher, an able preacher.
And more. Jesus’ listeners are ‘astounded’.
The response seems to extend from the difference between Jesus’ teaching and the local scribes. Jesus speaks with an air of ‘authority’. He is not busily quoting others. He is speaking for himself.
This is only confirmed with the intrusion of the ‘man with an unclean spirit’. He asks his questions: ‘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.’
I wonder how this gatecrasher came across. Is his voice angry? Is it calm and reasoned? Does it repel or attract Jesus’ listeners? It may be only as the man convulses on the floor that people begin to ask what or who they are listening to.
This casting out is the first of Jesus’ miracles recorded in Mark’s gospel. So far we know no healing, no raising of the dead. All we know is that this one’s authority extends to the casting out of this ‘unclean spirit’.
And the result of all this? The authoritative nature of Jesus’ teaching is confirmed: ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’
And this is exactly what our passage is about: authority. That is what the people discovered before this casting out. It remains their focus afterwards. A new teacher, reaching beyond mere theoretical or philosophical ideas, is emerging.
No wonder his fame spread so rapidly. How could people not talk of such things?