Gospel: Mark 1:21-28
The Holy One of God
When was the last time you heard a powerful speech? Or saw an amazing feat? How did these events impress you?
In our age of instantaneous, multimedia communication, the power of speech and deed can be lost. Politicians reduce opportunities for a inspirational speeches to sound bites staged for news outlets. Stage and movie stars focus more on persona than the awe their performances can bring. And, with so many people getting into the act, everyone wants to impress more than be impressed. Image is everything. Words and deed are done for effect.
Once in awhile, the power of word and deed cuts through the clutter. Even the politicians, the stars, and the wanna-be's stop to take note. In a small synagogue in a small town in a forgotten corner of the ancient world, the power of word and deed rang out to get the attention of the generations to come.
21 Jesus and his followers went to Capernaum, a city by the Sea of Galilee. On the very next Sabbath, they entered the synagogue. And Jesus taught the people. 22 Everyone was surprised by his teaching, for he taught with a power the experts in the Jewish Law did not have. 23 Suddenly, a man who was controlled by a demon entered their synagogue. He shouted, 24 "Why do you get in our way, Jesus of Nazareth? Did you come to destroy us? Beware! I know who you are! You're God's Holy One!"
25 Jesus stopped the man from talking any more. "Quiet!" Jesus demanded. "Demon, come out of the man!"
26 The demon inside the man threw him around, groaned loudly, and left him. 27 Everyone was so amazed they began to tell each other, "What is this? A powerful, new teaching. Jesus commands the demons and even they obey him!" 28 The reputation of Jesus immediately spread throughout Galilee.
Mark 1:21-28 noted Jesus' first public act of ministry. Surrounded by his followers, Jesus taught in the synagogue at Capernaum. Suddenly, a demon-possessed man entered the synagogue. Jesus cured him. Throughout Galilee, his reputation as a teacher grew.
When we modern Western Christians read this passage, we marvel at the power of Jesus to heal, since we already assume his stature as a wise guide. Yet, a close reading reveals the audience reacted in the opposite manner. They marveled at Jesus' teaching. His healing powers were not as important to them. (See 1:22 and 1:27)
21 And they travel to Capernaum. Immediately, on the Sabbath, having entered the synagogue, HE taught. 22 They were overwhelmed by HIS teaching, for HE was teaching them as having (an) authority not as the scribes (had).
1:21 The term "Sabbath" is actually in the plural ("sabbaths"). The Aramaic used the plural to indicate a single day. The Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures) used both to indicate the worship day.
1:22 The "authority" of Jesus was like that of a king; he could speak because of his inherent power. The "authority" of the scribes was derived from their teacher. They could only speak in the name of another. Jesus could speak in his own name.
Where did this Jesus come from? While every Jewish male had the right to read and comment on the Scriptures in the synagogue, Jesus' comments had an effect. Here was the son of a carpenter, so his comments should have been should have been few and practical, addressing the life of a common craftsman. But, Jesus spoke on questions of the Law. He stepped across the line into the realm of the scribes, the experts on the Jewish Law. After all, scribes studied in the schools of rabbis and noted experts. They could point to a tradition of learning, a line of scholars that went back hundreds of years. This was their authority.
Unlike the scribes, Jesus spoke on his own behalf. In a static, age-oriented culture (the opposite of our ever-changing, youth-oriented culture), people were to know their place (which was defined by their family's status and within their family's structure). Jesus dared to ascend to a place far higher than his status justified. Jesus spoke as a prophet, one called directly by God. Jesus' words had power because they had an effect.
While Jesus' gospel of love differed from the duty-bound rulings of the scribes at many points, the difference were not as significant as we might believe. No, Jesus words had an effect due to the strength of his character and his convictions. When Jesus spoke, his words had a greater weight than a tradition of scribes. This impact, this power, drew followers to Jesus and changed them. (Of course, we Christians hold the power of Jesus was the Holy Spirit!) [1:22]
23 And, immediately, there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he shouted, 24 saying, "Why do YOU interfere with us, JESUS of Nazareth? Did YOU come to destroy us? I know who YOU are: the HOLY ONE of God." 25 JESUS stopped him, saying, "Be quiet and come out of him!" 26 The unclean spirit, having convulsed him, and shouting (with) a large cry, came out of him.
1:23 Was the man with the unclean spirit already in attendance when Jesus taught? Probably not, since he was considered unclean and unfit for worship.
1:24 "Why do you interfere with us?" is literally "What (is it) to us and to you?" In a cultural Greek meaning, the literal question would have the same approximate meaning it would have in an English context: a question of similarities. Since they have nothing in common, we can assume the Hebrew meaning of the question: a question of interference or meddling. The question then is one of turf. Why do you, Holy One of God, enter the place of demons?
Western-oriented cultures help foster the myth of control and scepticism. We have control over our lives in ways unimaginable in the time of Jesus. We know more, travel longer distances in shorter times, and live longer than our ancestors. Such facts help us dispel with the notion of "spirits" (despite the popular belief in angels).
In times past, people did not have a sense of control over their lives like we have. Any unknown ailment, any unknown force of nature, anything misunderstood was lumped into the spirit world. Ancient societies believed in a myriad of spirits: some benevolent (angels), some malevolent (devils), some capacious. The key to controlling these spirits, contemporaries of Jesus believed, was a knowledge of their names. As we reviewed last week, one's name revealed one's power and purpose. "Jesus" means "God saves." To truly know Jesus, one must experience the power of salvation (revealed in his name). Along the same lines, when one named a malevolent spirit, he or she knew its power, and, so, had a sense of control over it. (As a side note, in many cultures, the study of medicine included lists of "evil" spirits with their names and incantations to expel them.) Ancient societies even developed elaborate hierarchies and groupings for spirits.
When the demon-possessed man arrived in the scene, he addressed Jesus by name and in the plural. In other words, the demon tried to take control of the situation through Jesus' name and his status ("the holy One of God"). The demon claimed knowledge of Jesus. And he spoke for his fellow demons ("Why do you interfere with us...? Did you come to destroy us?"). So, the lines of the battlefield were drawn. Jesus faced the host of demons in the land controlled by Satan himself. God's holy One was the invading force. [1:24]
Jesus cut the battle short. He did not need knowledge of names or incantations like contemporary exorcists. He simply gave the command. And the demon left the man. Without the demon, the man was religiously clean and could return to his place in society. Like other revelations of God's power, Jesus freed the man from evil powers. [1:25-26]
27 Everyone was (so) amazed that they discussed (it) with themselves, saying "What is this? A new teaching with authority! He orders unclean spirits and even they obey him!" 28 Reports about him immediately went out everywhere in the entire countryside of Galilee.
1:27 "A new teaching with authority! He orders..." can be translated "A new teaching! With authority he orders..." The power (his authority) came from his word (his teaching and his command).
In spite of the different ways to translate 1:27, Marks message about Jesus remained clear. Jesus' word had power. His command over the demons only served to legitimize his teaching. But, where did that power of his words come from? For Mark, Jesus's words gained power from God, for Jesus spoke God's word. Jesus, then was an instrument for divine providence, a conduit for divine power.
The crowd reacted "A new teaching with authority!" In a society unchanged generation after generation, novelty was suspect. But, as we saw last week, Jesus had a new message, "Repent and believe in the Good News." This was the message of the end times, a message of total change. Since only God could effect wholesale change, according to the logic of Jesus' contemporaries, a new teaching with such power behind it could only come from God. This teaching (with the accompanying sign) revealed the beginning murmurs of God's coming Kingdom. NEW TEACHING OF CHANGE + POWER=GOD'S KINGDOM [1:27] No wonder Jesus' reputation grew! [1:28]
Catechism Theme: The Good News: God has sent his Son (CCC 422-425)
"You are the holy One of God!" Even demons recognized who Jesus was. In the person of Jesus, Son of Mary, God visited his people. Through the words and deeds of Jesus, God 's presence became tangible. "Wherever God acts, God is." God was present to the audience in the synagogue through Jesus, simply because the Son of God possessed a divine nature.
When we experience Jesus, his words and deeds change us. If he could heal one possessed, can't he heal us of our demons, sins, and failures? All we need to do is trust. Once we have seen and heard, once we have been healed, we are sent to proclaim the Good News to others. (See 1 John 1:1-4)
When was the last time you had a moment of grace: a time of divine insight and healing? Was that time a signpost in your life? Are you still affected by that graced moment? Explain.
Jesus came to proclaim the Good News. Sometimes he used words. And, sometimes he healed. But all his words and deed reflected a greater power: God's love. He was the instrument, the conduit of that love, for he is God. The holy One made God present in tangible ways. He still does.
What word would you like to hear God speak? How would you like to be healed? Take a few moments this week to listen to God and prepare yourself for his loving touch.